By Dr. Alara Efsun Yazıcıoğlu
On 11 June 2020, FIFA published a document (entitled ‘COVID-19, Football Regulatory Issues, Frequently Asked Questions, hereinafter the ‘CFRI-FAQs document’) to address the frequently asked questions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The document aims to provide a more detailed analysis of some issues that were previously discussed in an earlier document (entitled ‘COVID-19, Football Regulatory Issues’, hereinafter the ‘CFRI document’) published by the organisation on 7 April 2020, as well as to provide guidance on a number of ‘new matters’.
The CFRI-FAQs document sheds light on 34 different questions relating to issues that were already dealt with by the CFRI document, namely declaration of a force majeure situation, problems relating to existing agreements and new agreements, issues linked to agreements that cannot be performed as originally anticipated, modalities of amendments of season dates (current and next) and registrations periods (i.e. ‘transfer windows’) that have already been declared in the FIFA Transfer Matching System (TMS), issues pertaining to other regulatory and legal matters (such as execution of decisions passed by the FIFA judicial bodies, calculation of the ‘season’ for the purposes of training compensation and solidarity mechanism and the potential impact of the outbreak on the deadlines set out in FIFA Circular no. 1679 with regard to the implementation of the electronic player passport).
The CFRI-FAQs document also deals with seven regulatory issues (referred to as ‘new matters’ in the document) that were not covered by the previous CFRI document. The issues concerned, along with the decisions taken by FIFA, can be summarised as follows:
- Registration and eligibility: Following the concerns expressed by a number of Member Associations (hereinafter MAs), that a player may inadvertently breach article 5 paragraph 4 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (hereinafter RSTP) when they transfer to a club associated to a different MA, it was decided that players shall be eligible to play official matches for a maximum of three clubs during the same season with regards to the 2019/20 and 2020/21 season for MAs following a dual-year calendar and the 2020 season for MAs following a single‑year calendar.
- Commencement of the first registration period before the completion of the current season: Under article 6 paragraph 2 of the RSTP, the first registration period begins after the completion of the season and ends before the new season starts. Several MAs, which follow a dual-year calendar, requested the first registration period for the 2020/21 season to begin before the completion of the 2019/20 season, since the realignment of their football calendar has resulted in a short break between seasons. To ensure that priority is given to former clubs to complete their season with their original squad (which was already clarified in the CFRI document) and to allow MAs to properly plan their football calendar, such requests will be approved as an ‘overlap exception’. The approval is subject to the conditions enumerated in the CFRI-FAQs document (p. 19).
- Clubs that participate in leagues affiliated to other MAs: The COVID-19 outbreak may cause the football-related activities not to simultaneously recommence on the territories of all MAs. Such a situation would reveal to be problematic for the clubs (the approximate number of which is 35 at a global level) participating in leagues affiliated to an MA which does not have jurisdiction over football matters in the territory where they are domiciled. FIFA states that for sporting, integrity and technological reasons, it is not possible to provide an exception to the clubs concerned and to permit them to be subject to the registration period of the MA in whose competition(s) they participate. FIFA will, however, notify the potentially impacted MAs upon receipt of a request by a relevant MA to amend season dates and/or any registration period(s).
- Purely domestic registration period to complete the 2019/20 season: Some MAs following a dual-year calendar suggested to open a purely domestic registration period as an exception to article 6 paragraph 1 of the RSTP, to ensure that the clubs have an adequate number of registered players to complete the 2019/20 season. FIFA decided that in cases where a club faces shortfall in registered players to complete the 2019/20 season due to the failure to extend the existing employment agreements, it shall be permitted to register its contracted youth or academy players to fill the shortfall. National football regulations are to be amended to allow such registration, to the extent necessary.
- Serving disciplinary suspensions for a specific period of time: A question of fairness has arisen in relation to sporting sanctions that have been issued for a specific long-term period of time, given the fact that individuals may have been serving a part of their sanction during the COVID-19 period, when football-related activity has ceased for a considerable amount of time. On this issue, FIFA stresses that it does not have the regulatory authority to pause a sanction and to recommence it at a later stage.
- Matters relating to intermediaries: Given the likelihood of employee (players and coach) remuneration being reduced and the amended season dates, MAs, leagues, clubs, players as well as coaches have raised several questions regarding intermediary representation agreements. FIFA made a number of recommendations for representation agreements signed prior to the outbreak and those signed during or after the outbreak (pp. 21-22 of the CFRI-FAQs document).
- Procedural costs before the FIFA dispute resolution bodies: With an aim of providing financial relief to parties involved in disputes before FIFA: (i) for any claim lodged between 10 June 2020 and 31 December 2020, there will be no requirement to pay an advance of costs and no procedural costs shall be ordered; and (ii) for any claim lodged prior to 10 June 2020 which has not yet been decided, the maximum amount of the procedural costs shall be equivalent to any advance of costs paid.
Dr Alara Efsun Yazicioglu, of Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey, may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org