Photographer: Dani Pozo/AFP via Getty Images

Soccer Ban on Signing of Young Players Challenged in Swiss Court

  • Case brought on behalf of 17-year-old African player
  • FIFA has sanctioned Barcelona and Real Madrid for rule breach

Soccer’s rules restricting the signing of young foreign players are being challenged in a Swiss court by the parents of an unidentified 17-year-old African.

The case comes after recent high-profile rulings by FIFA, the sport’s Zurich-based world governing body that imposed sanctions on top clubs including Real Madrid and Barcelona for breaching the restrictions. The limits severely restrict a team’s ability to sign under-18-year-old players from other countries.

European Union citizens between 16 and 18 can sign with teams within the 28-member bloc under special circumstances, including their parents relocating to a new non-soccer related job. Nater Dallafior Rechtsanwalte AG, a Zurich law firm that filed the case with the canton’s commercial court, is challenging the limits.

“FIFA implemented these regulations on the pretext that young football players such as the claimant must be protected,” the law firm said in a statement. “In reality, however, these regulations lead to a discrimination of football players” from outside the European Union.

FIFA didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Joerg Denzler, a spokesman for the law firm, declined to respond to questions about who was funding the case, or reveal the identity of the player and the family on whose behalf the suit was filed. The player has played for the national youth team in his home country, Denzler said.

The race to find the best young talent is becoming increasingly competitive, as transfer fees for proven players continue to climb. The international market for players now tops $5 billion. Barcelona has already served a one-year ban from the transfer market, and in September, Real Madrid and crosstown rival Atletico Madrid lost appeals for breaching rules protecting underage players. The teams are blocked from registering new players until January 2018.

FIFA investigated the recruitment of 51 Real Madrid players and 183 Atletico Madrid players. Eight players from Real and 54 from Atletico didn’t satisfy FIFA’s investigators. A large number of youngsters from China have traveled to train at academies run by Atletico, which is 20 percent owned by China’s Wanda Group.

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