A game-changing ruling

January 27, 2019

The hockey players, clubs and countries that have made considerable progress in the last two decades owe a lot to Belgian footballer Jean-Mark Bosman whose challenge to the football transfer rules led to the improvement in their fortunes

A game-changing ruling

On December 15, 1995, the Bosman ruling changed the face of football within the European Union (EU). It eliminated transfer fees for players out of contract with their teams who wished to change clubs within and between European Union countries and also prohibited national football leagues from imposing quotas on foreign players with European citizenship.

The latter part of the ruling has had profound effects. Before the Bosman regulation, during a first division match in the national leagues, the club was restricted to three foreign players.

The governing bodies in various European nations responded by immediately ending quotas on foreign players from the EU countries for club matches played within their domestic leagues.

Two months later, on February 19, 1996, UEFA struck down restrictions on foreign players in all its club competitions, such as the Champions League and the UEFA Cup (now Europa League).

The outcome of the Bosman regulation can be elaborated by one single statistic. It came into effect in the EU in December 1995. In England, non-English players started only 28.9 percent of the league matches during the 1994-1995 season. Less than a decade later, this figure almost doubled, 57.6 percent in 2003-2004.

This was bound to shake not only the European club soccer but also the international scene. The big spending clubs would reap the benefits by roping in the best footballers.

Countries could now export their players to the big European domestic leagues, where they would only get better by playing with and against the top players the whole season.

At the club scene, across countries, evidence from the Champions League indicates that the top European clubs have definitely become stronger.

The national teams of the smaller European nations have also been beneficiaries.

Iceland made astonishing progress as a result. A country of only 330,000 people qualified for the UEFA European Championship for the first time in 2016 beating strong Holland twice.

Thus Iceland became the smallest nation ever to figure in the event. If that wasn’t enough they caused sensation at the Euro 2016 itself: they advanced to the knockout phase after defeating Austria and drawing with Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal -- the eventual champions. They were not finished. They beat England 2-1 to make it to the quarter-finals.

In 2018, Iceland debuted at the World Cup -- the smallest nation ever to feature in the biggest competition of the sport.

The Icelandic miracle wouldn’t have been possible without the Bosman regulation. Not a single player of the 23-member squad at the Euro 2016 was playing his club football in Iceland. They ranged from lesser leagues of the neighbouring Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Sweden and Norway to mega clubs of the big leagues such as Juventus and Udinese of Italy, Nantes of France and PSV Eindhoven of Holland.

Not so long ago, hockey was a strictly amateur sport. Only towards the end of the last century, the clubs began hiring overseas players. The trade picked up and today the hockey leagues of a number of countries employ foreigners.

As in football, Europe is ahead. Hoofdklasse, the highest division of the Dutch hockey league, is the most competitive and the best organised in the world. In the ongoing season, no less than 54 foreign players have appeared in Hoofdklasse.

Neighbouring Belgium’s meteoric rise at the international scene owes a lot to the massive changes in its domestic set up. The club culture now closely resembles that of Holland and many foreigners appear in the Belgian league.

Germany, the other major European hockey force, also features overseas players in the Bundesliga.

Like soccer, the smaller hockey nations of the continent have profited a lot. Again, a club has no restriction over the number of EU players. In recent times, some unfashionable European hockey nations have been getting notable successes.

When Ireland qualified for the 2016 Olympics, it was their first ever qualification. Their previous Olympic appearance was 108 years back in 1908 when the teams didn’t have to qualify; they were invited.

A year before, they had achieved their biggest-ever success. At the 2015 Euro Hockey Championships, Ireland surprised everyone by finishing third; they had never before reached the semi-finals.

Their recent appearance at Bhuabneswar was the first at any World Cup since 1990.

France, though a big European country, has a small hockey base. They too featured in the recent World Cup for the first time since 1990. And they turned out to be the dark horse, beating all odds to reach the quarter-finals. On the way, France caused the biggest upset of the World Cup when they defeated Argentina, the Olympic Champions and World no 2.

Like soccer, the emergence of new European hockey powers is largely indebted to the big hockey leagues of the continent.

Half of the 18-member Ireland team in 2018 had been playing in Dutch, Belgian, German and English clubs. Holland: David Harte, Captain, (SV Kampong), Sean Murray (HC Rotterdam) Belgium: Kirk Shimmins & Shane O’Donoghue (KHC Dragons), Alan Sothern (La Gantoise), JeremyDuncan (Heracles) Germany: Matthew Bell & Paul Gleghorne (HTC Crefeld) England: Stuart Loughrey (Reading)

In case of France, no less than 13 play their club hockey abroad with just five of the 2018 World Cup team based at home.

As many as 12 out of the 13 had been playing in France’s northern neighbor Belgium; Corentin Saunier played in Holland. Perhaps, this has to do with the fact that 40 percent of the Belgians are French speaking.

French players in five Belgian clubs:

Waterloo Ducks: Victor Charlet (Captain), Pieter van Straaten & Nicolas Dumont

Royal Leopold: Gaspard Baumgarten, Aristide Coisne & Jean-Baptiste Forgu

Royal Oree: Artur Thieffry, Victor Lockwood, Chalres Masson & Maximilien Branicki

Royal Daring: Hugo Genester

La Gantoise: Etienne Tynevez

Corentin Saunier plays for Schaerweijde in Holland.

The hockey players, clubs and countries that have made considerable progress in the last two decades owe a lot to Belgian footballer Jean-Mark Bosman whose judicial challenge to the football transfer rules led to the improvement in their fortunes.


A game-changing ruling