FIFA staying out of MLS, union war
World soccer's governing body says it will not interfere in MLS labor negotiations
MLS Players Union argues league's stance could jeopardize U.S.' World Cup bids
Current CBA expires in January; MLS and union are far in negotiating new deal
The contentious labor talks between Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Union are going global, but FIFA -- world soccer's governing body -- has decided not to take part, resisting a call for action against MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation by FIFPro, the union representing soccer players worldwide.
In a high-stakes poker game involving the most powerful organization in international soccer, FIFA told SI.com that it will not interfere in collective bargaining negotiations between the MLS Players Union and MLS owners.
FIFA's position deals a blow to the MLSPU, which is contending that MLS' policies on player contracts violate FIFA regulations. In fact, MLSPU executive director Bob Foose had gone so far in a recent interview with SI.com to argue that MLS' stance could have drastic consequences on issues of the highest importance to U.S. soccer fans.
"MLS is governed by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which in turn must answer to FIFA," the MLSPU argues in a document made available to SI.com. "By thumbing its nose at FIFA's regulations, MLS could jeopardize the U.S.' World Cup bid for 2018 and 2022, and could even jeopardize the U.S. national team's eligibility for next year's World Cup."
On Tuesday, the global soccer union, FIFPro, issued a statement drafted at its general assembly in Budapest, Hungary, last week calling for FIFA to take action against MLS and U.S. Soccer.
When presented with the MLSPU's argument, however, FIFA told SI.com that it will not interfere in the CBA negotiations, which it considers a domestic issue, and that it does not consider the U.S. Soccer Federation to be connected to the process either.
"FIFA can confirm it has received correspondence regarding a current issue involving the MLS and the MLS Players Union and their ongoing negotiations," FIFA said in its statement to SI.com. "FIFA understands that this domestic issue is being resolved in accordance with U.S. labor laws and does not involve the U.S. Soccer Federation. FIFA will not interfere in the process. We have been assured that FIFA's regulations have been and will be respected."
MLS' current collective bargaining agreement expires on Jan. 31, 2010, and the league and union have already met several times in negotiations for a new deal.
One of the main areas of contention between the union and MLS owners involves guaranteed contracts. Very few MLS player contracts are guaranteed for the entire length of their terms. The union wants contracts to be fully guaranteed and cites Article 13 of FIFA's Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players: "A contract between a professional and a club may only be terminated upon expiry of the term of the contract or by mutual agreement."
The MLSPU also argues that MLS' policies on contract option years are in violation of FIFA statutes. Currently most player contracts have one-way options in which only MLS and its clubs (not the players) have the right to exercise option years. Additionally, the union wants players to be allowed to move freely to other MLS clubs at the end of their contracts. Currently MLS teams retain their rights to a player when his contract has ended.
For his part, MLS commissioner Don Garber denied that MLS' player contract policies are in violation of FIFA rules. Said Garber: "It is so disappointing to me that a union representing players from so many countries, many of whom are American players on the World Cup team, would take the approach that their issues in this negotiation should have any impact whatsoever on both the U.S.' bid for the World Cup in 2018 or '22 or our team's role in the 2010 World Cup. For the life of me, I can't understand how this is in the best interests of their members."
Responding to FIFA's statement, the MLSPU's Foose argued that it did in fact contain good news for the players union. "It appears from FIFA's statement that MLS has conceded it will comply with FIFA regulations going forward," Foose said in his own statement. "If that is the case it is a positive development."