The European Union's top court on Tuesday decided Russian soccer players have an unrestricted right to play in the 25 EU nations, a ruling which could open up EU leagues to even more foreigners.
The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice ruled in favor of Igor Simutenkov, who contended his playing opportunities in Europe were hampered by limits on non-EU players in Spain.
Simutenkov argued that since a 1994 EU-Russia agreement banned job discrimination, the Spanish league had to accept him on the same grounds as any other EU player. When he was playing for Deportivo Tenerife, the league had refused to do so.
Because of the EU-Russia partnership deal "such a limitation cannot therefore be justified on sporting grounds," the European Court of Justice ruled.
The case comes two months after European soccer's governing body, UEFA, set quotas for locally trained players on clubs.
Under the rules, clubs must include at least two locally trained players and an additional two from their home nations on their 25-man rosters for European competitions beginning with the 2006-07 season.
The minimum will increase to four locally trained players and four from the home country starting with the 2008-09 season.
UEFA also is asking its 52 national associations to apply the same rules to league games.
Previous limits on EU players in European leagues were outlawed by a 1995 court ruling in a landmark case involving Belgian player Jean-Marc Bosman. He sued to halt the practice of clubs requiring transfer fees for players whose contracts had expired.
Tuesday's ruling said that the EU-Russia agreement "establishes, for the benefit of Russian workers lawfully employed in the territory of a member state, a right to equal treatment in working conditions."