The Hoekman Ruling: Potentially A New Bosman Ruling?

GuidoAnalyst ISeptember 2, 2009

We have all heard of the infamous Bosman ruling of 1995, when the European Court of Justice made a decision concerning freedom of movement for workers, freedom of association and direct effect of article 39 of the EC Treaty.

The case was an important decision on the free movement of labour and had a profound effect on the transfers of football players within the EU.

The case banned restrictions of foreign EU members within the national leagues and allowed professional football players in the European Union (EU) to move freely to another club at the end of their term of contract with their present team. The ruling was made in a consolidation of three separate legal cases, all involving Belgian player Jean-Marc Bosman.

As a consequence of this ruling, many footballers born outside of the EU now take advantage of EU naturalisation rules to obtain a passport of an EU member country(for example by investigating whether they had any European ancestors, or by meeting long term residency requirements), to enhance their chances of being employed across Europe. For example, many Brazilians have acquired Portuguese nationality, many Argentinians acquire Spanish or Italian nationality etc.

The Bosman ruling also prohibited domestic football leagues in EU member states, and also UEFA, from imposing quotas on foreign players to the extent that they discriminated against nationals of EU states. At that time, many leagues placed quotas restricting the number of non-nationals allowed on member teams.

Also, UEFA had a rule that prohibited teams in its competitions, namely the Champions League, Cup Winners' Cup, and UEFA Cup, from naming more than three "foreign" players in their match-day squads.

After the ruling quotas could still be imposed, but could only be used to restrict the number of non-EU players on each team.

As you can see, the case had a considerable impact in modern football. The Dutch ruling regarding Dutch former player Danny Hoekman could just have a comparable impact on the footballing world, as a Dutch court ruled that a club is now responsible for the actions of its players and any damages they may cause whilst at work.

Back in 1987, the left winger was a neo-international playing for Roda JC. Many considered him the natural successor of Robbie de Wit in the national team and he seemed a likely candidate to make the 1988 European Championships team of the Netherlands.

Before he ever got a chance to shine at the international stage however, his career was crippled by a reckless challenge by FC Utrecht goalie Jan-Willem van Ede. A challenge outside the box resulted in a serious knee injury for Hoekman, who suffered from damaged ligaments and menisci.

Hoekman was out of action for a year and a half and never really returned to his old form, and missed out on a transfer to clubs like Ajax, PSV, and Tottenham, all three of which had shown interest in negotiating a transfer deal around the time of the accident.

A disillusioned Hoekman took his case to court and back in 2002, he was awarded 12 million Euros as reparation payments by FC Utrecht, the club which had employed the goalie who crippled his career. Since a €12 million payment would surely have bankrupted the club, the case was settled and the club didn’t have to pay the full amount, but this case does create a precedent for today’s football.

Even if it is an older case, it creates a possibility for other players to do the same. On Monday I wrote about Axel Witsel breaking the leg of Marcin Wasilewski this weekend. There’s no reason why Wasilewski wouldn’t be able to do the same thing as Hoekman.

Witsel will be banned from playing football for 10 matches and why wouldn’t Wasilewski file a complaint against the club for lost income? It seems very unlikely he will ever return to the pitch as a professional player after such a horrific injury and he could lose out on several years of football and income.

Some people feel this is going too far, players starting law-suits against a club over injuries they sustained. After all, they are professional athletes and they take a chance every time they enter the pitch, right?

In my opinion, absurd tackles like this are not considered normal on a pitch and therefore the consequences of such a wild tackle should seriously be taken into consideration when such a complaint is filed. If you think about other areas of life, the damage you do is very much of quite critical importance in what happens to you.

For example, any driving offence tends to be more heavily punished if you injure/kill some one else. If one person drives dangerously and hits a tree, and one drives equally as dangerously and hits a person, should the punishment be the same? Is that not a difficulty at the heart of the “only a three-match/normal ban” argument?

If one guy goes over the top and gashes a leg, and another stamps it clean off, is that the same thing?

When a wild tackle and flagrant foul has consequences as serious as this, a Dutch court ruled that the club can be held accountable for the actions of their player. It will be interesting to see if a similar course of action is taken in the Witsel case, or anywhere else in Europe.

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