The European Commission has today published an independent study on the assessment of the "Home-Grown Player" (HGP) rule adopted by UEFA in 2005 and gradually implemented by clubs participating in the Champions League and Europa League competitions in subsequent years.
The HGP rule requires clubs to have a minimum number of "home-grown players" in their squads. These are players who, regardless of their nationality, have been trained by their club or by another club in the national association for at least three years between the age of 15 and 21. Since the 2008/2009 season, clubs are required to have a minimum of eight locally trained players in their squad, with squads limited to 25 players maximum; at least half of the locally trained players must be club-trained. Since this was agreed, many other sport federations have adopted similar "home-grown player" rules at the European or national level which constitute a restriction to the free movement of sportsmen and women.
The HGP rule was designed to support the promotion and protection of quality training for young footballers in the EU and increase the competitive balance between clubs. The study published today is the first thorough assessment of the application of the UEFA's HGP rule after its full implementation. In 2008, the Commission found that the approach followed by UEFA in adopting these rules complied prima facie with the principle of free movement of workers while promoting the training of young European athletes (See press release: IP/08/807)
However, since the HGP rule risked having indirect discriminatory effects on the basis of nationality and since its implementation had been gradual over several years, the Commission decided to carry out further analysis on the effects of the rule.
The main conclusion of the study is that it cannot be categorically established that the restrictive effects of the HGP rule on the free movement of workers are proportionate to the very limited benefits of the HGP for competitive balance and the training and development of young players. The study also argues that the very modest benefits of the HGP rule are likely to be achieved in a more substantial manner by the adoption of alternative and less restrictive means, particularly those which do not have discriminatory effects. The study further notes that UEFA, in conjunction with the key football stakeholders, holds the necessary experience and expertise to explore these alternatives and should be afforded the reasonable time of three years to do so. The Commission currently has a number of infringements open in this area.
The objectives of the study were the following:
1. To present a description of UEFA's HGP rule and to analyse its functioning and its effects on football clubs in Europe;
2. To present an analysis and assessment of the effectiveness of the HGP rule in achieving its objectives;
3. To present an analysis evaluating the proportionality of UEFA's HGP rule with regard to the achievement of its objectives.
4. To examine and assess the impact UEFA's HGP rule has had on free movement of professional football players in the EU;
5. To compare UEFA's HGP rule with the existing national football associations' rules on home-grown players.
The study was launched by the Commission in June 2012. It was carried out by a consortium composed of the University of Liverpool and Edge Hill University.
The study recommends that a further analysis should be conducted in three years' time by UEFA in order to assess: (1) whether the competitive balance improvements identified have been maintained, improved further or have declined, (2) whether a closer connection between the HGP rule and improvements in youth development can be identified, and (3) whether less restrictive alternatives can deliver more substantial improvements to competitive balance and the quality of youth development. This future analysis is based on the assumption that the existing parameters of the HGP rule will be maintained over the next three years.
Rules similar to the UEFA's HGP rule and applied at national level in various sports are also subject to the scrutiny of the European Commission. The Commission's services have opened a number of infringement procedures in this context. The Commission's services intend to use the results of the study published today in their discussion with national authorities and national sports associations with a view to clarifying the criteria under which rules on the promotion of locally trained players are to be assessed in order to examine their compatibility with EU law.