15-15 is an unlikely score for the football match between England and Belgium on 28 June 2018 at the FIFA World Cup in Russia. In this article, the 15-15 score refers to the minimum age at which young football players can sign their first employment agreement with a club. Previously, the minimum age for becoming a professional football player in Belgium was 16 years. The Belgian football clubs felt, however, that they could not attract enough talented young players because many moved to England where they could sign their first professional contract at the age of 15.
To create a level playing field (in the football arena), the Belgian government lowered the minimum age to 15 years by Royal Decree of 28 May 2018. The Royal Decree entered into effect on 16 June 2018, at the start of the FIFA World Cup in Russia.
To prevent young sports talent dropping out of school too early, Belgian law provides that clubs can only offer an employment contract to players aged 15 or 16 (Art. 6 of the Belgian Act of 24 February 1978 regarding the employment agreement of paid sports practitioners). Up to that age, young players have to attend school. For basketball, football, volleyball and cycling, clubs can offer players a part-time employment agreement at 16 years and a full-time employment agreement at 18 years (Royal Decree of 18 July 2001).
Football clubs have lobbied to conclude agreements from the age of 15, as in the United Kingdom. The Belgian government has done so in the Royal Decree of 28 May 2018. Whether this Royal Decree will have the desired effect remains to be seen. Rendez-vous at the next FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022!