Transfer Windows

In recent years, the football transfer deadline day has become a sporting institution in the UK and Europe. News reporters and fans camp outside club offices and training grounds and speculate endlessly on which player the club is about to buy or sell. 24 hours news coverage sustains the spectacle until at 11.00pm the transfer window closes and the speculation ends. For a player who didn’t secure a move, the closure of the window means that he must wait until the transfer window re-opens, and that can be many months. Few consider the impact this can have on a player – loss of earnings, loss of career progression or even the inability to live where he and his family want. After all, ‘normal’ employees are free to take up new employment all year around. Transfer windows also restrict the period in which clubs can recruit the playing talent they need. Transfer windows therefore raise both labour law and competition law issues.

In football, the specific regulation governing transfer windows is located in Article 6 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players which states that ‘players may only be registered during one of the two annual registration periods fixed by the relevant association’. A challenge to the transfer window in European basketball was heard by the European Court of Justice in Case C-176/96 Lehtonen and Castors Braine [2000] ECR I-2681. The Court considered that although a transfer window amounted to a restriction on the free movement of workers, it established the principle that the restriction may be justified as late season transfers could substantially alter the sporting strength of teams in the course of the championship and thus call into question the proper functioning of sporting competition. It can therefore be concluded that a proportionate restriction on when a player can be transferred is compatible with EU law.