Non-EU athletes are subject to restrictions in the leagues they play in. From basketball to soccer, there are quotas. Now a Russian soccer player in Spain wants to change that -- and looks to have a good chance.
Quotas will never be a problem for Ronaldo (middle) in Europe
The German all-star basketball game did not attract a lot of attention in the German media. The south squad beat the north, 110-103. What did cause a small stir was how the game began.
Players on both squads refused to play in the first 48 seconds to send a message home to the league bosses.
Europe's basketball player of the year 2004, doesn't play in Europe. The German forward is a role model for youth but they are having troubles getting playing time in the BBL.
The hoopsters want more say in affairs in the league. One matter they are particularly concerned about is the number of foreign, specifically non-EU, players in the league. Before the current season, the German Basketball League (BBL) made a decision to drop quotas for players who come from countries that have labor agreements with the EU.
Germany's national coach, Dirk Bauermann, called the decision fatal for the younger players who will now have less opportunity to play since foreign players are frequently better and cheaper. The BBL, however, may have smelled the winds of change within the EU.
Russian player in Spain felt discriminated against
The matter came to a head this month when the EU's head lawyer posted an opinion in favor of the non-EU athletes.
Germany's SC Freiburg have thrived on non-EU players
Igor Simutenkov, a soccer player for Spanish side Deportivo Tenerife, was subjected to a quota in the Primera Division that limits the number of non-EU players a team can field. He felt this was discriminatory and after some investigation, his agent found out that indeed Simutenkov's right to work freely within the EU had indeed been violated.
His argument was based on a partnership agreement between Russia and the EU. The EU's advocate-general, Christine Stix-Hackl, said the agreement prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality with regards to working conditions.
The case must still be heard by the European Court of Justice, but opinions of the advocate-general are usually followed by the court in future rulings.
More opportunities also for non-Europeans
Should the ECJ concur with Stix-Hackl's opinion, almost all barriers for athletes from outside the EU, even beyond Europe's borders, would have to be dropped.
Sports rights expert Professor Peter Tettinger believes there is little possibility that quotas and other restrictions can stand up to such a decision.
"Once the (non-EU) athlete is active in an EU country, then the agreement between the EU and the partnership country apply. Then he has to be treated the same as every other employee. To put it simply, like European professional athletes."
Judges will have the last word on player quotas in the EU
Not just athletes from Eastern European countries such Russia, Belarus or Ukraine would benefit. Sportsmen and women from many African countries, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Rim could play without restriction in any European sports league. The foundation is the Cotonou Agreement from June 2000.
The German Sports Association (DSV) is not thrilled about such prospects. DSV vice-president Christa Thiel says that the quotas were implemented to give younger German athletes the opportunity to play.Others say that the influx of players from abroad, assuming they are top-notch, only help to strengthen German athletes.