European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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11 June 2018

Social dialogue in football: 'a work in progress', says ETUI report

A new analysis of social dialogue in football suggests that recent moves by the Commission to foster a ‘European Model of Sport’ still have a long way to go in developing effective mechanisms for dialogue in the professional game.

In ‘ Sectoral Social Dialogue: Social Partners, Outcomes and Problems of Implementation’, a new working paper just published by the ETUI, Professor Berndt Keller of the University of Konstanz warns that the long-term development of social dialogue in sports like football depends on identifying common interests and establishing a sustainable balance of power between players, clubs and regulators. 

With this Summer’s World Cup in Russia showcasing an array of expensive footballing talent, moves are also afoot off the pitch to bring all levels of the football sector under the auspices of European Union employment legislation. At the moment, regulation of the highly commercialised football industry still mainly takes place at the national level. However, the EU has been extending its policy remit beyond the exclusively economic and has taken an increasing interest in football and other sports, launching a ‘Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Professional Football’ in 2008. So far, the main outcome of this has been an agreement on minimum requirements for player contracts that was reached in 2012.

Professor Keller argues that the limited development of social partnership in European football is partly due to the huge regional diversity in the game – while some western-European countries have a strong tradition of social dialogue, many of those in the East do not. There are also stark differences in the economics and regulation of the sport which stand in the way of a common approach. For example, while most European players are employed directly by their clubs, those in Hungary are self-employed.  

‘My overall feeling is that the impact of European moves to foster social dialogue in football will be limited for the moment’, cautions Professor Keller. Nevertheless, he also singles out some unusual features of the process which give grounds for optimism over its potential for further development. First, is the unprecedented geographical spread of the agreement, which extends beyond the reach of the EU to include non-European members of UEFA (the governing body of European football) such as Turkey and Israel. Second, is the (relatively) rapid pace of the process, which went from the foundation of the sectoral dialogue committee to its first agreement in five years. ‘In comparison with other sectors, this is a rapid and impressive result’, said Professor Keller.

The third thing of note is the fact that the agreement was negotiated under the auspices of an organization (UEFA) that is not a recognized social partner. ‘It is highly unusual, almost unprecedented, that a body that is not a social partner has been able to negotiate a social partner agreement in this way’ said Professor Keller. Overall, he argued that even the limited agreement that has been reached is a positive sign. Professor Keller added that there are numerous issues of common concern which have an impact at the European level, but whose inclusion on the agenda would require agreement among all the interests involved. These include contractual issues and the establishment of career funds for footballers embarking on their post-football careers. Other sports sectors to which social dialogue could be extended include active leisure and basketball, Professor Keller said.   

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