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By ESPN Staff

Charleroi v FIFA case sent to EU's top court

CHARLEROI, Belgium, May 15 (Reuters) - A Belgian court on Monday referred a case taken against soccer's governing body FIFA by first division club Charleroi and the G14, representing 18 of Europe's richest clubs, to Europe's highest court.

Charleroi and the G14 will have to take their landmark case, in which they are seeking compensation for a player injured while playing for his country, to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

'The European Court of Justice is the only court that can sufficiently decide this case, taking everything into account,' Jean-Philippe Lebeau, president of the commercial tribunal in the city of Charleroi, south of Brussels, said in the ruling.

A spokesman for the G14 told Reuters they were 'very happy' with the decision.

'Our claim has always been that FIFA's rules were subject to EU laws, but they refuted this claim. Our argument has now been proved correct,' G14 lawyer, Jean-Louis Dupont told Reuters.

'This ruling is good for the game, we may at last get some legal clarity.'

The last major case in football to be referred to the ECJ also began in Belgium.

The 'Bosman ruling' was named after the landmark case brought by Jean-Marc Bosman, which ended with players being given the choice to move freely between clubs when out of contract and increased player power enormously.

All sides must now deliver their arguments to the ECJ, most likely before a hearing in a few months. 'A final decision will probably take about a year,' Dupont said.

Significantly, this ruling now forces the European Commission, the EU's executive arm to finally give its opinion. The Commission is the guardian of the EU treaties and so far it has remained on the fence, monitoring the case.

Just before the ruling, it was announced the man leading an independent review into how football is run across the EU will deliver his final report to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso next week.

Former Portuguese deputy prime minister, Jose Luis Arnaut will meet Blair in London next Monday before travelling to Brussels on Tuesday to meet Barroso, sources close to the situation told Reuters.

Essentially the review focused on whether soccer should be accountable to EU laws or whether it should be treated as a special case.

UEFA and most national associations view football as a 'social movement' while many clubs, in particular the wealthier ones, want more power and see football as a business.