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The Gareth Farrelly case


One of the most interesting presentations at last week's Sport and EU conference was by footballer Gareth Farrelly, badged as from Edgehill University.    In March 2007 Cork City asked Fifa to make an exception to the then rules on player registration.  Farrelly had already played in matches for two different clubs in the period between July 2006 and March 2007 and so would be ineligible to play for Cork until July 2007.   It should be noted that summer football had been introduced in Ireland.

Farrelly had left Bohemians as player-manager for family reasons.  He then had a short-term contract with Blackpool but couldn't agree terms for a longer contract.  He knew the manager at Cork City so joined them.  Having made a five hour journey to his first game Farrelly was told that he could not play as his registration had been rejected.  He had no prior knowledge of the three club rule.

All good footballers are accompanied by their solicitor who then completed the presentation.   It was clear that (and who would disagree?) that he did not have a very positive view of Fifa or the people who run football more generally.   Football governance was in charge of lots of people who don't play football (I have encountered these 'blazers' myself).   One should not expect any logic in Fifa which was a Kafka like organisation.

An attempt was made to settle the dispute informally but when it was clear that this would not work the Professional Footballers' Association stepped in to support a case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.   Part of the background to this dispute was that Fifa did not like the emerging loan and short-term contract system in England, but the competition in Ireland was a separate one.   It should also be remembered that, just as in cricket, it is now possible for players to play for twelve months a year if they make use of the Irish, Nordic and Iceland leagues.

The behaviour of Fifa's legal representatives in Lausanne would appear to have fallen below the highest ethical standards in terms of the advance disclosure of relevant documents.   Fifa was directed by the Court to publish its internal decisions.   Although Farrelly lost his case he was able to start playing shortly afterwards and Fifa has subsequently changed its rules to take account of overlapping seasons.