The Oulmers lawsuit is currently making its way through the Belgian system, but is expected to be passed up to the EU Court as it involves issues that national jurisdictions are thought unable to rule on.

The case involves an incident in November 2004 when Charleroi, in Belgium's first division, tried to withdraw Abdelmajid Oulmers from the Morocco squad for a friendly match against Burkina Faso to protect him from injury. But world football authority FIFA ruled that Mr Oulmers had to play. He tore ankle ligaments and was out of action for seven months. Charleroi missed a place in the lucrative European Champions League, blamed their failure on the loss of Mr Oulmers and are suing FIFA for compensation.

The powerful G14 group of Europe's top clubs - including Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Bayern Munich - is funding Charleroi's case. Legal experts believe that it will go to the European Court and, should Charleroi win, FIFA's policy on players being released for international matches would be thrown into disarray. G14 has also challenged FIFA in the Swiss Competition Commission.

Charleroi had to pay Mr Oulmers' medical costs and salary while he recovered from the ankle injury. G14 argues players often come back tired or injured from big international competitions. The clubs get no pay from the international federation and continue to insure their players. "The clubs have to bear all the weight but they have nothing to say", G14 general manager Thomas Kurth said. For example, Real Madrid lost Zinedine Zidane after the French international was hurt in a World Cup qualifier match against Ireland in September and have estimated the injury to have cost the club around euro 70,000 a day.

Mr Kurth argues that big clubs now have a right to be directly involved and paid. Since the 1990 World Cup in Italy, television and commercial revenues have exploded for international football. FIFA has sold the TV rights to next years World Cup for euro 1 billion, 15 times what it made in 1990.

Some national federations pay for their players to be released for national duty. German Bundesliga clubs, for example, receive euro 6,000 per player from the German football federation DFB. "We don't want clubs to get money for every game a player is released for", Thomas Kurth...

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