Soccer-Players' unions file legal claim against FIFA over expanded Club World Cup


FILE PHOTO: A long exposure shows FIFA's logo near its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland February 27, 2022. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

(Reuters) -FIFPRO'S European member unions have started legal action against FIFA over the expanded men's Club World Cup which they say violates players' rights with no scope for rest between seasons, the global players' union said on Thursday.

World soccer's governing body FIFA said in May it would not consider rescheduling its 32-team Club World Cup, set for June 15-July 13 next year, after FIFPRO and the World Leagues Association (WLA) threatened legal action if it did not review the plans.

England's Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) and France's players' union (UNFP), both FIFPRO members, submitted a legal claim with the Brussels court of commerce on Thursday.

"FIFPRO Europe member unions have today submitted a legal claim against FIFA, challenging the legality of FIFA's decisions to unilaterally set the International Match Calendar (IMC) and, in particular, the decision to create and schedule the FIFA Club World Cup 2025," FIFPRO said in a statement.

"Player unions believe that these decisions violate the rights of players and their unions under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights while also potentially violating EU competition law."

The claim asks the Brussels Court of Commerce to refer the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

FIFPRO will be represented by law firm Dupont-Hissel, founded by Jean-Louis Dupont, who was involved in the landmark Bosman case of 1995 that helped rewrite the rules under which players are employed.

'ENDLESS SCHEDULE OF GAMES'

The PFA added that the case would seek to "challenge the structures" of the football calendar and enforce players' rights to take guaranteed breaks.

"This is an important moment for players and for their rights as employees. Everyone across football knows that the fixture calendar is broken to the point that it has now become unworkable," PFA Chief Executive Maheta Molango said.

"The most in-demand players are now part of an endless schedule of games and competitions for club and country, with their limits constantly being pushed through expansion and the creation of new competitions.

"I am constantly told by those members that what they want is a properly protected break where they can rest and recharge."

The PFA said Premier League players would finish the 2024-25 season at the end of May, following which some would play in the UEFA Nations League Finals.

The month-long Club World Cup kicks off four days later -- meaning some players would be in action for 12 months straight giving them no time to rest with clubs beginning their pre-season in July.

In May, FIFPRO and WLA expressed their concern over the expanded competition in a letter addressed to FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Secretary General Mattias Grafstrom.

Their letter said the global football calendar is "beyond saturation" and that national leagues are unable to properly organise their competitions, while players are being pushed beyond their limits, with significant injury risks.

In response, FIFA rejected their claims that it had made unilateral decisions to benefit its competitions in the international calendar.

Grafstrom had stated that they have regularly engaged with relevant stakeholders on the subject of the IMC, adding that FIFPRO and WLA were involved in discussions on the future of the calendar in 2021 and 2022.

Grafstrom said FIFA were ready to sit down with both FIFPRO and WLA to discuss the matter further during the close season but David Terrier, President of FIFPRO Europe, said "all attempts at dialogue have failed".

"It is now up to us to ensure that the fundamental rights of players are fully respected by taking the matter to the European courts and thus to the ECJ," Terrier said.

"It's not a question of stigmatising a particular competition, but of denouncing both the underlying problem and the straw that broke the camel's back."

During last month's FIFA congress in Bangkok, Infantino stressed that it only organises "around 1% of the games of the top clubs in the world".

In addition to the 32-team FIFA Club World Cup that is set to be hosted in the United States, all three European club competitions will be expanded to 36 teams from next season.

(Reporting by Aadi Nair and Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; editing by Miral Fahmy and Toby Davis)

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