FIFA is planning to move ahead with the phasing in of the 6+5 rule after receiving a massive boost in March from the Institute for European Affairs (INEA), which presented a 191-page expert report concluding that the proposal "can be implemented in line with European Community law".
Following the publication of the report, the FIFA Congress will now be asked at its June meeting in Nassau to approve a timeframe for implementing the rule, which will oblige clubs to field at least six players in their starting line-up who are eligible for the national team where their clubs are based.
The proposal already received initial support from FIFA's member associations at last year's Congress in Sydney, where the members asked the FIFA and UEFA Presidents "to continue to explore ... all possible means within the limits of the law to ensure these crucial sporting objectives be achieved".
While the phrase "within the limits of the law" was leapt upon by critics of 6+5 to suggest that the rule was in conflict with existing European legislation on the free movement of workers within the European Community (EC), the INEA report found little or no evidence of incompatibility.
Examining the extent to which the EC article governing the free movement of workers can be applied to 6+5, the study considered it "questionable whether the requirements of Community law apply at all ... because it is a rule of the game that is purely motivated by the needs of the sport".
The report pointed out that 6+5 would place limits only on the use of players in starting line-ups and not on the overall composition of squads, meaning that there will be no restrictions on the number of "foreign" players that a club can sign.
As a result the experts suggested that the "core of the right to freedom of movement will not be affected by the '6+5 rule'". Having themselves concluded that 6+5 would not impinge on the freedom of movement of workers, the study's authors then argued that even if this conclusion was challenged the rule would still be justified in terms of European law due to its underlying purpose.
Since the wording of 6+5 is based on a player's national team eligibility rather than his nationality per se, the report found that the rule would constitute at the most "an indirect or concealed discrimination ... which can be justified ... if there are compelling reasons in the general interest". These compelling reasons could be found, the study argued, in the "legitimate objectives" of the 6+5 rule, including "improving competition in sport", "promotion of junior players" and "protection of the national identity of football and the national teams".
The INEA study also echoed previous research, including a 2004 study by the independent British research body Sports Nexus and a 2005 World Bank report, both of which uncovered statistical evidence for what many fans had already suspected: that the world's top leagues were becoming less and less competitive. Since the tendency of Europe's top clubs to "hoard" the world's best players is seen as one of the main factors in this decline, the INEA study concluded that 6+5 was also compatible with EC competition and antitrust law provisions. Indeed it suggested that 6+5 will in fact increase sporting competitiveness by "striving to prevent the formation of overly strong teams."