It has been announced on 21 August, 2014 that the Association of Football Agents (AFA), which represents some 300 Football Agents in the UK, has lodged a complaint with the European Commission to block plans by FIFA to deregulate Football Agents worldwide.
Under new FIFA Rules, which are due to come into force on 1 April, 2015, football agents would no longer be required to apply for and obtain a licence and also their fees would be capped at 3% on deals that they negotiate. From henceforth, if FIFA gets its way, football agents will be known as ‘intermediaries’.
The AFA has asked the Commission to investigate the new Rules, from an EU Competition Law point of view, arguing that they will lead, in the absence of any regulation, to corruption and also that, as they will result in “annihilation” of the industry of licensed football agents, they are anti-competitive and “will reduce football to a circus.”
The AFA has taken this step after having become “frustrated” with its attempts to lobby FIFA and explain their concerns on these changes.
Rather than restricting competition, the new Rules, in the opinion of the writer of this note, would open up this lucrative sector to wider competition and, to use EU Competition Law jargon, allow new entrants into this particular market within the EU. This is one of the aims of Competition Law!
As regards the claim by AFA that an unregulated market will lead to corruption, the writer of this note, has some sympathy. The argument put forward by the AFA runs thus: as football, generally speaking, is highly vetted, regulated and controlled, there is a distinct danger, not only to the operation of the transfer market, but also a distinct risk of corruption, particularly, it is claimed, in relation to match-fixing. This is a real and ongoing problem in football and other sports, such as cricket. In this connection the AFA claims that, without any regulation, this will open the football industry to unscrupulous individuals, who have not been vetted and whose credentials are not known to players and clubs alike. This is quite a persuasive argument with some merit!
As an alternative to the FIFA new Rules, the AFA has put forward a proposal of self-regulation, based on a disciplinary code of conduct and a vetting procedure to be agreed with the Football Authorities. However, the writer of this note would observe that self-regulation in many industries has not enjoyed a wide measure of success!
The AFA initiative is being led by its feisty chairman, Mel Stein, an experienced football agent, amongst whose clients, is the English football player, Paul Gascoigne – aka ‘Gazza’!
It will be interesting to see how this complaint by AFA to the European Commission fares, particularly in the light of the legal challenge, launched on 17 December, 2013, by FIFPro, the world football players’ union, also to the European Commission against the football transfer system.
This complaint is based on the grounds of freedom of movement of workers; competition law; and human rights. FIFPro cites, inter alia, in support of its complaint, excessive training compensation being claimed by Clubs contrary to the limits laid down in the preliminary ruling of 16 March, 2010 of the European Court of Justice in the case of Olivier Bernard (Case C325/08); and also exorbitant compensation being imposed on players for breaches of their contracts, for example, the Adrian Mutu case, in which the former Chelsea striker was ordered to pay his former club £14m in damages for breach of his contract. Both of which situations, FIFPro argues, would not be tolerated in any other industry!
Watch this space!
Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an International Sports Lawyer, Academic and Author and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘email@example.com’