According to a report by Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, the impositions sports teams place on athletes moving to other clubs may violate Japan’s anti-monopoly law.
The article referred to Japan’s New Years Corporate Ekiden distance relay race, where runners who switch teams without permission, can be banned from the competition indefinitely. Still, it could have ramifications for baseball in Japan, where the players union is fighting for shorter free agency windows.
Currently, players must amass nine years of first-team service time before they are able to file for international free agency. But unlike the major leagues, where the free agent system was won by the players, in Japan it was handed down to them by the Yomiuri Giants, so that club could scoop up available veteran talent.
Japan’s reserve system was established when the Japan Baseball Federation was established in the 1930s as a league for the Giants to compete with, and unlike MLB, which has enjoyed considerable protection from anti-trust legislation as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Federal Baseball Club v. National League, Japan has no such basis for anti-trust exemption.
While the Fair Trade Commission recognized that teams incur costs to develop athletes, there is nothing to stop Japanese sports bodies from adopting rules that are standard outside the United States’ 19th-century ownership model. Outside of the U.S. and outside of baseball, athletes sign contracts for specific terms, and transfers before those terms expire can be negotiated between players AND teams.
But even if the FTC did pursue action, one should remember that the districting for Japan’s lower house elections have been considered unconstitutional for decades, and the government has not so much as twitched a muscle in response.