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Free movement of sportspeople in the EU



Article 165 — Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union


It confirms that the European Union (EU) can take measures to contribute to the promotion of European sport, while respecting its specific nature, voluntary structures and social and educational functions. Those measures support, coordinate and supplement national action.


  • Article 165 states that the EU can develop the European dimension of sport by:
    • promoting fairness and openness in sporting competitions and cooperation between sports bodies;
    • protecting the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and women, especially the youngest;
    • fostering cooperation with non-EU countries and relevant international organisations, particularly the Council of Europe;
    • adopting appropriate incentives and recommendations, without harmonising national laws and regulations.
  • Free movement of people is a fundamental EU principle. In sport, this ensures that, in general, professionals and amateurs can move freely from one country to another.
  • The principle means that rules involving direct discrimination, such as quotas based on nationality, are not allowed in professional sport.
  • In practice, limited and proportionate restrictions, which are indirectly discriminatory, may be placed on free movement, provided they have a legitimate objective and are proportionate. These recognise the specific nature of sport and include:
    • the right to select only national athletes and players to represent their country;
    • the need to limit the number of participants in a competition;
    • the use of deadlines for transferring players in team sports;
    • compensation rules for recruiting and training young players.
  • Other treaty articles outlawing national discrimination (Articles 18 and 45) and guaranteeing the right to live in another EU country (Article 21) and the freedom of establishment and the provision of services (Articles 49 and 56) apply to:
    • professional and semi-professional sportspeople (as workers),
    • instructors, coaches and trainers (as providers of services),
    • amateur sportspeople (as EU citizens).


  • National governments and sports governing bodies set the rules on the movement of sportspeople. However, the EU is involved to ensure these do not lead to unfair discrimination or affect an individual ’s rights when their employment is involved.
  • The Court of Justice of the European Union has clarified these rights in several judgments. The most notable of these was the 1995 Bosman ruling. This concerned football transfer rules as obstacles to free movement and national quotas as a form of direct discrimination.


Article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, pp. 120-121)

last update 12.09.2016