On December 30, 2002, the Council of State handed down the Malaja judgment, definitively ending the conflict between the Polish basketball player Lilia Malaja and the French Basketball Federation. Qualified as a “Bosman judgment to the power of 10” by Sepp Blatter, then president of the International Football Federation, the Malaja judgment revolutionized the workforce of collective sports teams.
The rules of the Women’s Basketball League were the heart of the dispute. It limited to two the number of extra-community players per club, that is to say non-nationals of the European Union, which at that time had 15 countries. Polish basketball player Lilia Malaja is recruited by RC Strasbourg basketball pro women but in application of the regulations, she is the foreigner too many, the club already having two non-EU players. The agent of the basketball player François Torres and the president of the club Patrick Kramer ask Michel Pautot’s cabinet to attack Lilia Malaja’s playing ban. He tells us about his process:
“As lawyers in Marseille, we had the opportunity to deal with many sports cases, a new area in the legal world at the time. We then discussed the provisions of the Association Agreement signed between the European Union and Poland, in particular those of Article 37 which prohibit discrimination on grounds of nationality with regard to working conditions. We asked that the Polish be considered as a community player within the club’s workforce, and therefore not subject to restriction.
We had discovered the existence of association and cooperation agreements signed by the European Union and third countries while preparing a doctoral thesis in law on the subject of Sport and Europe, defended in December 2000 at the University of Nice. The European Union was involved with a hundred (Eastern Europe, Maghreb, Cotonou agreement with the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific zone).
At the time, these agreements were unknown, especially by sports leaders. We then seize the conference of the conciliators of the French National Olympic Sports Committee, a mandatory prerequisite before referral to the administrative court. Before the CNOSF conciliator, we support Lilia Malaja’s right to play as a community player, without restriction, in application of the provisions of the association agreement on the grounds that she has a regular residence permit and ‘a work contract. We support, with good reason, the superiority of the provisions of an international treaty over domestic law, and therefore over sports regulations. The CNOSF conciliator issued a favorable opinion on our claims on October 7, 1998.
The Federation opposed, forcing us to seize the administrative court of Strasbourg which, with the general surprise, will reject our recourse on January 27, 1999. The revolution of the sport in Strasbourg does not take place. Strasbourg, a European city if ever there was one… During the hearings in Strasbourg, Lilia Malaja was present, accompanied by all her teammates, who had come to support her.
We lodged an appeal and on February 3, 2000, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Nancy deemed illegal the ban on playing Lilia Malaja by the FFBB. On December 30, 2002, the Council of State definitively settled the dispute by confirming the judgment of February 3, 2000 of the Administrative Court of Appeal of Nancy. Lilia Malaja definitely won. The judgment was subsequently confirmed by the Court of Justice in the Kolpak, Simutenkov and Khaveci judgments.
The revolution in team composition
Since sporting protectionism has lived, the Maginot lines of sport have exploded… Announced during its pronouncement as a “clap of thunder” or an “earthquake” in European sport with the forecast of the composition of cosmopolitan teams, the balance sheet is , twenty years later, unequivocally: the Malaja judgment has undeniably contributed to the construction of a sport without frontiers. The quotas of foreign players have been shattered with the application of community texts. A great victory for the rights of athletes, so much so that we can speak of “a great stoppage of this beginning of the century for the rights of athletes”.
Indeed, a historic victory for the rights of athletes, clubs in Europe being able to massively recruit non-EU foreign players. Thus, after the shock of the Bosman judgment (1995) which concerned community players, the battle of the Polish basketball player Lilia Malaja generated a second, more “global” revolution in the numbers of the teams.
The prize for globalization goes to the English football clubs of the Premier League, which have made this expansion a force of attraction.
Who has not heard of the great stars of South Africa in the rugby championships, especially in England and France. If the Malaja judgment had not been rendered, would the famous South African World Champions have played in France? No. Visibility has been exceptional for French rugby thanks to these players. And Pacific players have also followed suit for rugby as well.
The African continent is a good beneficiary of this new deal with its footballers, many of whom play in Europe. This is the case of footballers from the Maghreb, many of whom exercise their talents in European clubs. Similarly, the winners of the African Cup of Nations increasingly include players in Europe, such as Senegal, winners of the 2022 edition, which started their final with a 100% expatriate starting lineup. in Europe. More and more African basketball players are playing in Europe and some have won the Euroleague.
As for the players of Eastern Europe coming from the signatory countries of the agreements, like Poland, they are also numerous in Western Europe, they are considered as community players with the adhesion of their countries in the European Union a few years later.
If Lilia Malaja’s fight complements and amplifies that led by the Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman, it undeniably allowed a change of mentalities on the perception of foreign players in the teams and then amplified their importance in the teams. For decades, players were considered likely to take the place of domestic players, hence the federal foreign player quota regulations. We have often heard that “with the Malaja judgment, the Charters of Poles were going to happen” but this has not been the case. Today, twenty years later, clubs are taking advantage of globalisation, the arrival of foreign players in the teams appeals to supporters and European football clubs have become the stronghold of player transfers. The Malaja judgment has undeniably contributed to this evolution which will continue. ”
Photo: Lilia Malaja and Michel Pautot
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20 years ago, the Malaja judgment, which revolutionized team sports | Basketball Europe
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