Villiger: Autonomy of the sport in danger

There has been a lot of media coverage recently regarding the situation of Swiss top flight club FC Sion, who have taken FIFA and European football's governing body UEFA to court over a FIFA-imposed transfer ban. Marco Villiger, FIFA's Director of Legal Affairs, gives his view on the case and considers its consequences.

FIFA.com: Please tell us what the FC Sion case is all about...
Marco Villiger: The club signed Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary despite the player already being under contract with another club. As a result, the Dispute Resolution Chamber handed FC Sion and their professional department Olympique des Alpes SA a transfer ban lasting two full and consecutive transfer periods. This was confirmed by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport. FC Sion President Christian Constantin then involved the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, who also approved FIFA's decision. In April 2011, FIFA reminded FC Sion of their pending transfer ban. The players they signed during that period knew when they agreed their contracts that due to the transfer ban, they would not be eligible to play. Despite this, those players argued their case in front of a regional court and received a temporary playing permit. FC Sion's opponents in the national league protested and consequently the club was temporarily excluded from the UEFA Europa League and replaced by Celtic.

Where does FIFA stand on the case?
This is one of many cases we're involved in. We have around 3,500 such contractual disagreements every year, although in the large part clubs do play by the rules. Normally FIFA does not comment on ongoing cases, but we are being a little more open about this one because the other side have been so aggressive in the media. Football fans are losing a sense of what the case is about. Both sports judicial courts and Swiss courts of law have decreed us to be in the right and this must be upheld.

What does this mean for football?
An enormous amount of damage has already been done to Swiss football and the autonomy of the sport. Associations are becoming more and more anxious and the structure of the sport is in danger. It's irresponsible as the President of a club to bring football into such disrepute. In the long term, he is damaging himself too. Mr Constantin, as President of FC Sion, not to mention the players, signed an agreement and therefore knew the rules. Because results weren't going their way, they went to court. It has caused chaos. If every club went to a local court when they disagreed with something, international football would no longer be possible. Arguments over the games which involved ineligible players will continue long after this case is closed. Sooner or later sanctions will be implemented. Ultimately, once the temporary injunction is lifted, the case will be a very clear one."

What does this mean with regard to the matches and the players involved?
In civil law, if you obtain a temporary injunction but are subsequently adjudged to be in the wrong, you would be liable for damages. In sport, the equivalent solution is to forfeit the matches, meaning the opponent gets the victory. The players signed a contract in the knowledge that they were ineligible to play. The legal consequences of their actions in terms of their employment are yet to be determined.

How do you see this case affecting the future of football?
If a sanction which has been approved by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland can no longer be enforced due to the decision of another court, then it will be a dark day for sport. However, I don't think it will get that far. We have to fight to ensure any decrees we make which are approved by all authorities are subsequently upheld. If we don't, we may as well give up making decisions altogether. The member associations are responsible for enforcing these decrees. If an association chooses not to enforce it, it's up to us to sanction them. Possible sanctions include suspensions, expulsion from competitions and so forth. If we can no longer enforce decrees, the whole system is in danger.