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May 13, 2006

FIFA braced for court ruling on compensation

BRUSSELS, May 13 (Reuters) - Less than a month before the World Cup kicks off in Germany, a Belgian court will deliver its ruling on Monday in a landmark case between soccer's governing body FIFA and Europe's richest clubs.

Belgian team Charleroi, backed by the G14 which represents 18 of the world's richest clubs, are seeking compensation after one of their players was injured on international duty.

Sources close to the case have told Reuters the three judges will probably refer the case to the European Court of Justice, leaving the decision hanging like a dark cloud waiting to burst over football's greatest event.

The last major case in football to be referred to the European Union's highest court also started in Belgium and that decision just over a decade ago shook the sport to its foundations.

The 'Bosman' ruling, after a case brought by Jean-Marc Bosman, gave players the choice to move freely between clubs when out of contract, increasing player power enormously.

Charleroi are seeking compensation after Moroccan Abdelmajid Oulmers was ruled out for eight months following a friendly against Burkina Faso in November 2004.

The club say the loss of the player hindered their chances of success in the Belgian league and cup.

FIFA says there is no link between the injury of Oulmers and where Charleroi finished in the league last season, fifth. They even turned down an 11th-hour settlement offer by Charleroi on the eve of this new case.

Many of FIFA's national associations were listed in the court papers as 'defendants' although three of Europe's biggest associations, England, France and Germany, were not included.

It is accepted by all sides the failure to get a decision before the World Cup has opened up the possibility of further cases arising from injuries during the finals.

The G14 has already joined Olympique Lyon in a similar action over defender Eric Abidal, who broke his foot during a France friendly.

Clubs pay the wages of players, which can exceed $175,000 a week for the top performers.

Under FIFA rules, clubs must release any player called up by a national association for qualifying games for the leading continental tournaments and friendlies.

G14 says the regulations 'are illegal and an abuse of FIFA's dominant position' under European Union law.