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A prominent US sports litigation expert said today that FIFPro's challenge to football's ailing transfer system is not unlike some of the historic battles he oversaw in reshaping two of North America's most popular professional sports.

Jeffrey Kessler, who fought landmark cases which helped establish models of free agency for players in the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) said, "What history has taught us is that there's no inconsistency between having a fair system for players and having a healthy sport. Quite the contrary."

"What we've seen is that when sports have given players more freedom and have compensated them better the entire sport has grown on the revenue side. The players and clubs can work together to build the sport much more easily in a fair system than in an unfair system."

"There are many alternatives that could be developed that would benefit the players and would not hurt the clubs but build the sport. On both sides the economics are important but you also have to consider the integrity of the sport."

A discussion on football's transfer system and the economics of the sport was the central theme of today's FIFPro-hosted meeting of the UNI Sport Pro Steering Committee. Player representatives from a wide range of sports, including the NFL, cricket and rugby, came together to share best practice in the representation of athletes with the aim of advancing matters of common interest.

FIFPro Vice President Brendan Schwab said, "What's been made clear is that all player associations around the world have a common interest in making sure that their players can move freely from one employer to another, that player contracts will be respected and that the economic rules that govern sports ensure growth, viability and the distribution of a fair share of revenue with the players."

"What's also very important is that a fair share of league revenue is available to all of the participating teams so that as many teams as possible can make the investments needed to be competitive and strong, on and off the field."

"As FIFPro prepares for its challenge to the transfer system, we also have to scrutinise with great detail the proposed UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations because they too will have an enormous impact on the way in which football is governed, its economic viability and the way in which the players' rights are respected."

Don Fehr, Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) also addressed the meeting. He brought with him decades of experience as a collective bargaining negotiator going back to his time with Major League Baseball Players' Association (MLBPA). He emphasised the need for transparency and a model that ensures the flow of money is always accounted for.

"In any sport you have to look at the particular dynamics and money flow otherwise you don't really understand what happens. While we use the same terms in the US, like free agency, they don't mean the same things between basketball, baseball, football and hockey. They're all sport specific."

"It goes without saying that the greater level of understanding you have about the economic dynamics of the (football) industry that's going to make you much more able to explain to your players what is going on and improve it in a fashion that the players would prefer."

"The essence of the transfer system is that a large part of the value of the player is not paid to the player and there's a question as to whether that is a fundamentally fair thing to do or whether it's an appropriate thing to do."

"For that reason I would expect anyone who is representing players to be in a series of continual examination and re-examination as to whether that system as currently constituted is appropriate."

Photo: Don Fehr, Walter Palmer (UNI Global Union), Jeffrey Kessler and Brendan Schwab

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