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A case for ending football’s mid-season transfer window

Football transfer
Monday, 04 March 2019 By Rustam Sethna

"Europe has risen to the occasion and won the match, ensuring a great victory both for football and for Europe. Club football represents much of what we are striving to achieve in Europe in terms of exchanges of players, fans and ideas...We have managed to achieve an outcome that will preserve the legitimate rights of players to move from one country to another whilst ensuring European football will be able to go from strength to strength.

Mr. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission (6 March 2001) 1

The context of the statement above is of landmark importance – Mr. Prodi’s words marked a negotiated settlement arrived at between the European Commission, FIFA and UEFA, giving birth to the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP).

However, the RSTP and the resultant "transfer system" as we know it today, was a consequence of the opening of ‘a Pandora’s box that cannot (and should not) be locked ever again’2, namely, the Bosman ruling (Bosman)3.

Bosman is known for having abolished the system where an out-of-contract player’s registration could be withheld for lack of a transfer fee, as this was deemed incompatible with the EU principle of "free movement of people"4. However, the payment of a transfer fee for a player still under contract was not declared unlawful by the European courts in that instance. Even today, clubs continue to buy and sell contractually bound players for large sums of money.

The current practice, it has been argued5, continues to impede a player’s "free movement" rights. For example, a player can only move to another club with the consent of the current employer, which is unlikely to be forthcoming without a new club paying a transfer fee, which is sometimes unaffordable. Additionally, under Article 6 of the RSTP, the registration of players may only take place during an aggregated period of approx. 4 (four) months each year (Registration Period). Registration Periods are divided into two – a longer 12 (twelve) week period and a shorter 4 (four) week period – referred to as ‘transfer windows’ in common parlance.

This article offers the author’s view on why the FIFA’s mid-season transfer window should be abolished, and why the pre-season window is sufficient.

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Written by

Rustam Sethna

Rustam Sethna

Rustam is an Associate on the sports law team at Mills & Reeve LLP, focusing on sports disputes and regulatory matters. He holds a master’s in International Sports Law from ISDE (Madrid) and is also a member of the Disciplinary Panel at England Boxing and the Anti-Doping Committee at the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation.

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