Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Blackpool Football Club (WP19)

  Following our recent work permit application, appeal and subsequent refusal for Indrek Zelinski, an established Estonian international football player, we feel that the present criteria for awarding work permits to footballers who are not EEA nationals is extremely unjust.

  Not only is the present system unjust, but is also inequitable and discriminatory and implementation of the criteria is not always followed consistently. This is highlighted by the recent cases involving Bury Football Club and ourselves with the respective applications for Zelinski and Bhutia. The football credentials of Zelinski are undoubtedly stronger than those of Bhutia and yet Zelinski's application was refused whilst Bhutia's was successful.

  The present criteria states "work permits are only issued to footballers of the highest standard who have played for their country in at least 75 per cent of its competitive 'A' team international matches that he was available for selection during the two years preceding the date of the application. Also, the FIFA ranking of the player's country must be at or above 70th place in the official rankings averaged over two years preceding the date of your application."

  The first aspect ensures that only established internationals are allowed entry and this is understandable because it provides some measure of a player's ability, which in turn is a guide to the contribution he has the potential to make. The use of FIFA rankings is, however, discriminatory. It discriminates against individual players and it can also discriminate against individual clubs. Furthermore, it is also inconsistently applied as the cases of Zelinksi and Bhutia demonstrates. In Europe, Zelinski played at a higher standard both domestically and internationally as was indicated in the testimony from Craig Brown, the Scottish National Team Manager, who also verified the player's capability to make a significant contribution to the English game by player for Blackpool. Craig Brown, unlike the members of the panel who rejected our appeal, had actually seen Zelinski play on several occasions. Bhutia on the other hand played his football in Asia, which has inferior football competitions and his country, India, are ranked by FIFA 40 places below Estonia. It is not clear to us, therefore, how Bhutia's application was approved in preference to ours but it is assumed that the rationale was racially motivated rather than based on football ability. If so, the credibility of the work permit arrangements must be questioned.

  Further investigation into the criteria for other sports indicates that sports people who are not EEA nationals, are able to obtain work permits with greater ease as the criteria required is much less stringent. As an example a brief summary of the criteria required by cricketers and both rugby union and rugby league players obtained from the respective governing bodies is attached.

  The principles behind the present criteria in a lot of cases, does not appear to be met. At certain levels players are being brought in to make up squads and are playing at reserve team level and as such, are not making a significant contribution to English football. We strongly feel that although the present criteria should be reviewed, and subsequent ruling should be far clearer and capable of being adhered to. The criteria could then be strictly enforced in every case and clubs would know exactly where they stood. The present criteria using FIFA rankings of international placings is not an appropriate indicator and was never intended to be used for this purpose. Indrek Zelinski met all the criteria except for Estonia's present FIFA placing, being outside the top 70. This arbitrary cut off point leaves the panel to judge the merits of the application in private.

  Blackpool Football Club are currently investing nearly £200,000 per annum on the development of youth players with a four-year business plan in place. We feel that the future of the Club is still in home grown players, developing through our youth policy and are not seeking to sign overseas players on a regular basis. Players such as Trevor Sinclair and Alan Wright have both developed through Blackpool's youth policy and are now playing top-flight football in the Premier League. Clubs like Blackpool have suffered the downturns of the domestic market caused by the excessive importation from abroad, which has been exacerbated by the Bosman ruling.

  At the present time, Blackpool have five professional players in the first team squad who are home grown players developed through the youth policy. In addition, three youth trainees have been involved in first team games played in the Nationwide League Second Division this season who have all come through the youth policy.

  We feel that as a club, not only our current professional players but in the main our youth players, would benefit greatly by training alongside a current Estonian international player. Albeit we are a Nationwide League club, the introduction of foreign players has been shown to benefit Premiership clubs and other Nationwide League clubs at the highest level both on and off the field of play.

  Blackpool Football Club, as a professional club, feel that the present system is preventing the club from carrying on its lawful business because the present system is flawed and does not stand up to close scrutiny. A clear-cut system should be introduced without any grey areas, which is the case at the moment.

Blackpool Football Club

October 1999

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