Germany's top court has ruled in favor of an amateur football club that FIFA ordered relegated almost a decade ago. The row started after SV Wilhelmshaven refused to pay a training fee to two Argentine clubs.
The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) on Tuesday struck down the forced relegation of SV Wilhelmshaven, which was ordered by FIFA in 2012.
In the ruling, the Karlsruhe-based court found that the Northern German Football Federation's (NFV) statutes were not sufficiently clear to allow it to implement the forced relegation, which had been ordered by football's world governing body, FIFA. Specifically, the BGH found that the NFV's statutes didn't make clear what penalty a club could face if it refused to pay training compensation fees to a player's previous club or clubs, meaning Wilhelmshaven were not in a position to adequately weigh up the risks of failing to do so.
The BGH ruling followed a ruling by the higher regional court in Bremen, which had also ruled in favor of the club. Wilhelmshaven elected to turn to the German court system after having had the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport rule against it.
As a result of the FIFA order, Wilhelmshaven were forced out of the Regionalliga Nord, the fourth tier of German football, at the end of the 2013-14 season.
The row started in 2008 when FIFA ordered Wilhelmshaven to pay training-compensation fees totaling 157,500 ($176,200) to two Argentine clubs, Atletico River Plate and Atletico Excursionistas. This came after Wilhemshaven had signed Sergio Sagarazu, who had previously played for both of the Argentine clubs. Such training compensation fees are set out under FIFA's statutes.
This was a lot of money for the small German club, who refused, arguing that they weren't a member of FIFA and as such did not believe the world governing body's rules on training fees applied when they signed the player. They also argued that as the 19-year-old was not only an Argentine but also an Italian citizen, he enjoyed the European Union rights to freedom of movement and freedom to choose one's employer.
SV Wilhelmshaven, who, after being relegated two more times due to their performance on the pitch, now play in the seventh tier of German football, could now seek financial compensation and have already stated their intent to seek reinstatement to the Regionalliga Nord.
Tuesday's ruling could also force not just the NFV but other football federations to rewrite their statutes to avoid possible similar cases in the future. It also raises fresh questions about FIFA's rules regarding training compensation fees.