Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

The proportionality test under Art. 101 (1) TFEU and the legitimacy of UEFA Financial fair-play regulations: From the Meca Medina and Majcen ruling of the European Court of Justice to the Galatasaray and AC Milan awards of the Court of Arbitration for Sport – By Stefano Bastianon

Editor’s note: Stefano Bastianon is Associate Professor in EU Law and EU sports law at the University of Bergamo and lawyer admitted to the Busto Arsizio bar. He is also member of the IVth Division of the High Court of Sport Justice (Collegio di Garanzia dello sport) at the National Olympic Committee.

 

1. On the 20th July 2018, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (hereinafter referred to as “CAS”) issued its decision in the arbitration procedure between AC Milan and UEFA. The subject matter of this arbitration procedure was the appeal filed by AC Milan against the decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Financial Control Body dated 19th June 2018 (hereinafter referred to as “the contested decision”). As many likely know, the CAS has acknowledged that, although AC Milan was in breach of the break-even requirement, the related exclusion of the club from the UEFA Europe League was not proportionate. To date, it is the first time the CAS clearly ruled that the sanction of exclusion from UEFA club competitions for a breach of the break-even requirement was not proportionate. For this reason the CAS award represents a good opportunity to reflect on the proportionality test under Art. 101 TFEU and the relationship between the landmark ruling of the European Court of Justice (hereinafter referred to as “ECJ”) in the Meca Medina and Majcen affair and the very recent case-law of the CAS.

2. According to the contested decision, AC Milan was guilty for failing to comply with Articles 58 to 63 of the UEFA Financial fair-play regulations on the break-even requirement. As a consequence the Adjudicatory Chamber has excluded AC Milan from participating in the next UEFA Europe League for which AC Milan has already qualified (2018-2019) at the end of the 2017-2018 Italian football championship. The appeal filed at the CAS by AC Milan was mainly aimed at seeking the annulment of the contested decision and ordering UEFA to enter into a settlement agreement.

3. The theory of proportionality test under Art. 101(1) TFEU in sports matters goes back to the ECJ’s ruling in the 2006 Meca Medina and Majcen case, while, in general terms, this theory was enunciated by the ECJ for the first time in the 1994 DLG case and then repeated in the 2002 Wouters and Others case although in a slightly different way.

In the DLG case the ECJ has ruled that:

«in order to escape the prohibition laid down in Article 85(1) of the Treaty, the restrictions imposed on members by the statutes of cooperative purchasing associations must be limited to what is necessary to ensure that the cooperative functions properly and maintains its contractual power in relation to producers (…). In addition, it is necessary to establish whether the penalties for non-compliance with the statutes are disproportionate to the objective they pursue and whether the minimum period of membership is unreasonable». 

Eight years later, in the Wouters and Others case the ECJ established the following principles:

(i) not every agreement between undertakings or every decision of an association of undertakings which restricts the freedom of action of the parties or of one of them necessarily falls within the prohibition laid down in Art. 101(1) of the Treaty;

(ii) for the purposes of application of that provision to a particular case, account must first of all be taken of the overall context in which the decision of the association of undertakings was taken or produces its effects; and

(iii) it has then to be considered whether the consequential effects restrictive of competition are inherent in the pursuit of those objectives.

Unlike the DLG case, in the Wouters and Others ruling the ECJ did not expressly refer to the concept of proportionality, but preferred to recall the concept of inherent restrictions. However, from the overall wording of the ECJ, it is clear that in both cases it tried to apply in the antitrust sector the same theory of mandatory requirements developed in relation to the internal market.

4. On the contrary, in the Meca Medina and Majcen case, the ECJ expressly referred to the concept of proportionality. In particular, the ECJ has literally quoted the passage of the Wouters and Others ruling where it is stated that:

«not every agreement between undertakings or every decision of an association of undertakings which restricts the freedom of action of the parties or of one of them necessarily falls within the prohibition laid down in Article 81(1) EC. For the purposes of application of that provision to a particular case, account must first of all be taken of the overall context in which the decision of the association of undertakings was taken or produces its effects and, more specifically, of its objectives. It has then to be considered whether the consequential effects restrictive of competition are inherent in the pursuit of those objectives (Wouters and Others, par. 97)». 

However, unlike the Wouters and Others case, the ECJ has added that the effects restrictive of competition must also be proportionate to the objectives pursued.

More specifically, in anti-doping issues the test of proportionality is a means to avoid the risk that a given rule (and the sanctions imposed in case of a breach of it) may prove excessive by virtue of:

(i) firstly, the conditions laid down for establishing the dividing line between circumstances which amount to doping in respect of which penalties may be imposed and those which do not, and

(ii) secondly, the severity of those penalties (in the case at issue the penalty was a two year suspension).

Regarding the first point, the ECJ has underlined that the dividing line was determined by the threshold of 2 ng/ml of urine above which the presence of Nandrolone in an athlete's body constitutes doping. Based on documents before the Court, the ECJ could conclude that the average endogenous production observed in all studies then published was 20 times lower than 2ng/ml of urine and that the maximum endogenous production value observed was nearly a third lower. As a consequence, the ECJ rejected the argument according to which the threshold was set at such a low level that it should have been regarded as not taking sufficient account of the phenomenon of the endogenous production of Nandrolone.

Regarding the second point, instead, the ECJ simply observed that: 

«since the appellants have, moreover, not pleaded that the penalties which were applicable and were imposed in the present case are excessive, it has not been established that the anti-doping rules at issue are disproportionate».

This is the most critical passage of the ruling as one could wonder what would happen if the plaintiffs had contested the proportionality of the penalties. In such a case the ECJ should have examined the substance of the plea and stated whether the two year suspension was proportionate or not. However, in the event that the ECJ had come to the conclusion that the penalty was not proportionate, the anti-doping rules at issue should have been declared null and void unless it was possible to prove that the conditions of Art. 101 (3) TFEU were fulfilled.

The same reasoning was applied by the EU Commission in the ISU decision concerning the Eligibility rules enacted by the International Skating Union. In its decision, the Commission clearly underlined that:

«even if the Eligibility rules and their consequential effects restrictive of competition were inherent in the pursuit of any legitimate objective, the sanctions imposed on athletes in case of breach of the Eligibility rules are manifestly disproportionate» (par. 260).[1]

Thus, in sports matters there seem to be no doubt that the proportionality test must involve also the sanctions imposed on athletes. As already said, in the ISU decision, the Commission has clearly underlined that the Eligibility rules were not proportionate to achieve legitimate objectives in particular in view of the disproportionate nature of the ISU’s ineligibility sanctions. More specifically the Commission has pointed out that:

«the 2014 Eligibility rules provided for the heaviest sanction of a lifetime ban, even for the first infringement of the Eligibility rules, without taking into consideration the circumstances of the case (…). For the purposes of the assessment of the proportionality of the Eligibility rules it is however not relevant how many times the ISU has actually imposed sanctions. The fact that a lifetime ban was imposed only once on an athlete may even underline the strong deterrent effect of the sanctions. Although the sanctions system has been modified in the General Regulations 2016, the sanctions remain disproportionately punitive, as they provide for periods of ineligibility that go up to five years for negligent participation in unauthorized events, up to 10 years for athletes that knowingly participate in unauthorised events and a lifetime ban for athletes participating in unauthorised events endangering, inter alia, the ‘ISU jurisdiction’. These are disproportionately heavy sanctions in particular in view of the fact that on average a professional athlete's entire career is around eight years long. Also the imposition of a five-year ban is therefore likely to impact very heavily on an athlete's career who, after years of training and sacrifices, loses the possibility to gain income through the participation in the ISU's international events». 

This reasoning clearly shows that the Commission has considered the sanctions imposed to be disproportionate, not simply the rule forbidding participation in unauthorized events.

5. To date, neither the EU Commission nor the ECJ has had the opportunity to comment on the compatibility of the UEFA Financial Fair-play rules with EU Competition law. Indeed, regarding the Striani affair, the Commission has dismissed the complaint on procedural grounds only (the lack of Community interest), while the ECJ has declared a reference for preliminary ruling send by a Belgian court manifestly inadmissible and therefore did not rule on the substance of the case. As a consequence, to date there is no European formal decision that has assessed the compatibility of UEFA Financial Fair-play rules with EU law.

This opportunity, however, was offered to the CAS in the context of the Galatasaray/UEFA award (2016/A/4492). To fully understand the case one must go back to the 2nd March 2016 when the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Financial Control Body issued a decision in which it decided that Galatasaray has failed to comply with the terms of the Settlement Agreement and imposed on Galatasaray an exclusion from participating in the next UEFA Club competition for which it would otherwise qualify in the next two seasons.

On the 11th March 2016, Galatasaray filed an appeal with the CAS to challenge the decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Financial Control Body. Basically, the arguments put forward by Galatasaray were based:

(i) on the alleged incompatibility of the break-even rule with EU law (namely, Art. 101 TFEU on cartels, Art. 102 TFEU on abuse of dominant position, Art. 63 TFEU on free movement of capital, Art. 56 TFEU on free movement of services and Art. 45 TFEU on free movement of workers); and, in the event the first argument is rejected,

(ii) on the alleged disproportionate nature of the sanctions imposed by UEFA.

It is very interesting to note that from the point of view of Galatasaray the incompatibility of the break-even rule with EU law is something different and completely divorced from the proportionate character of the sanction. Indeed, the latter argument is invoked only in the event the first argument is rejected. In other words, according to this line of defence, the compatibility of the break-even rule with EU principles must be assessed only on the basis of the alleged restrictive effects on competition and the (alleged legitimate) objectives pursued, without considering the sanctions imposed.

In line with this approach, the CAS examined the two arguments put forward by Galatasaray separately. Regarding the relationship between the break-even rule and EU Competition law, the CAS reasoning can be summarized as follows:

(i) UEFA Financial fair-play regulations have neither the object nor the effect of restricting competition because: (a) UEFA Financial fair-play regulations do not prevent the clubs from competing among themselves on the pitch or in the acquisition of football players; (b) they prevent the distortion of competition by overspending; (c) clubs are free to pay the players as much as the wish provided that salaries are covered by revenues; (d) large dominant clubs have always existed and will always exist and therefore the alleged ossification of the structure market is a nonsense; (d) overspending is not completely prohibited because the break-even rule only applies over rolling periods of three years; and

(ii) in any case, even assuming that the break-even rule has anticompetitive effects, the objectives sought by UEFA Financial fair-play regulations do appear legitimate and their alleged restrictive effects inherent to the achievement of those objective. Put simply: if UEFA intends to control the level of indebtedness of European football clubs, the imposition of limits to spending beyond revenues is a natural element of a financial discipline seeking that objective.

By contrast, regarding the proportionality of the sanction imposed by the UEFA, the reasoning of the CAS is completely based on external factors which allegedly affected the finances of Galatasaray (i.e., the Syrian refugee crisis, the terrorist attacks in Turkey, the Turkish major match-fixing scandal, the exchange rate and rate fluctuations, the national economic downturn in Turkey, the inefficiencies of the market and the management changes). However, according to the CAS, this argument cannot be accepted because the club failed to provide the Panel with the accounting evidence of how and in which proportion each of these factors would have caused the break-even deficit. Moreover, the CAS has underlined that the sanction was not disproportionate because:

(i) it was imposed as a sanction for a second violation (i.e., after the Settlement Agreement which presupposes the previous violation of the rules on financial fair play);

(ii) an exclusion limited in time (one season) from the UEFA competitions is consistent with the principle of equal treatment and fair competition, as it protects the club respecting the UEFA Financial Fair-play regulations and does not prevent future compliance with them.


It follows from the foregoing that, according to the CAS the proportionate character of sanctions listed in the UEFA Financial Fair-play regulations cannot affect the evaluation of the legitimacy of these regulations under Art. 101 TFUE.

6. To some extent the AC Milan/UEFA case is similar to the Galatasaray case. Both clubs have failed to comply with the break-even requirement; both clubs have been sanctioned with the exclusion for one season from the UEFA competitions; both clubs have contested the proportionality of the sanction. Unlike Galatasaray, however, AC Milan was denied the possibility to enter into a Settlement Agreement[2]. On the contrary, it is worthy to note that the CAS has confirmed the decision of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA CFCB, which was rendered on the 19th June 2018, establishing that AC Milan had failed to fulfil the break-even requirement. However, it has annulled the decision to the extent that it has excluded AC Milan from participating in the next UEFA Club competition for which it would otherwise qualify in the next two seasons (i.e., the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons), arguing that the sanction was not proportionate. As a consequence, the CAS has referred back the case to the Adjudicatory Chamber to issue a proportionate disciplinary measure. The press release issued on the 20th July 2018 (the full text of the award is not yet available) indicates that the decision to annul the sanction and refer back the case to the Adjudicatory Chamber is based on the following arguments:

(i) some important elements regarding the financial situation of the Club and the recent change in the Club’s ownership have not been properly assessed by the Adjudicatory Chamber, or could not be properly assessed at the moment when the contested decision was rendered;

(ii) the Adjudicatory Chamber is in a better position than the CAS Panel to issue a new proportionate disciplinary measure on the basis of the current financial situation of the Club.

Despite the differences between the two cases, it is interesting to note that in the Galatasaray case the CAS assessed the sanction imposed by the Adjudicatory Chamber on the merits and found it proportionate. To the contrary, in the AC Milan case the CAS has assessed the sanction on the merits only to state that it was not proportionate, but refrained from saying which other sanction could be considered proportionate, arguing that the Adjudicatory Chamber is in a better position than the CAS to issue a new proportionate disciplinary measure. In other words, the CAS seems to say that it has no problem to assess the proportionality of a given sanction ; however, if it deems that the sanction is not proportionate, it is not for the CAS to replace the penalty imposed with another sanction.

7. Comparing the awards in the Galatasaray and AC Milan cases with the ruling in Meca Medina and Majcen affair some aspects deserve to be underlined. First of all, according to the case-law of the ECJ in sports matters, the evaluation of the restrictive effects of a rule necessarily presupposes the analysis of the proportionate character of the sanction imposed in the event of violation of that rule. On the contrary, according to the case-law of the CAS the analysis of the proportionate character of a sanction necessarily presupposes a positive evaluation of the legitimate character of the objectives pursued by the rule and its inherence to those objectives. In other words, it seems that according to the CAS the disproportionate nature of a sanction is not capable of affecting the legitimacy of the rule whose violation determined that sanction. Although the full text of the award is not yet available from the AC Milan/UEFA case it emerges that the disproportionate nature of the penalty imposed only resulted in the referral of the case to the Adjudicatory Chamber for the imposition of another sanction. Although apparently in line with the Wouters and Others case, this approach is clearly in contrast with the Meca Medina and Majcen case and, more generally, with the whole theory of mandatory requirements in the field of the internal market.

To this regard it is of paramount importance not to underestimate the fundamental difference between rules which are applied a priori and rules that are applied a posteriori. As also recognized by the CAS in the well-known ENIC case:

«rules that are applied a priori tend to prevent undesirable situations which might prove difficult or useless to deal with afterwards, rather than imposing a penalty on someone guilty of something. On the other hand, rules that are applied a posteriori are bound to react to specific behaviours. For example, under EC law and several national laws, rules on mergers are applied a priori, whereas rules on abuses of dominant position are applied a posteriori. Merger operations are checked before they actually take place, and are blocked if the outcome of the merger would be the establishment of a dominant position because of the possible negative consequences on the market and not because the individuals owning or managing the merging undertakings are particularly untrustworthy and the company after the merger is expected to abuse of its dominant position (…). All such a priori rules are applied on a preventive basis, with no appraisal of any specific wrongdoing and no moral judgement on the individuals or companies concerned. On the other hand, rules setting forth obligations and corresponding penalties or sanctions, such as criminal or disciplinary rules, can be applied only after someone has been found guilty of having violated an obligation». 

In this context it is clear that rules applied a posteriori (such as the UEFA Financial Fair-play regulations) consist of both the obligations set forth and the corresponding sanctions. In addition, it is not possible nor correct to arbitrarily separate the obligation from the sanction. Indeed, the fact that in the Meca Medina and Majcen ruling the proportionality test was referred precisely to the restrictive effects and not to the prohibition of doping cannot be ignored. The prohibition of doping as such, without the corresponding sanctions, does not have any restrictive effect on competition.

Secondly, the sanctioning system envisaged by the UEFA does not provide clear and transparent criteria as to how the sanctions are to be applied. There is no scale to measure and define the seriousness of the violation and no provision illustrating the relationship between the violation and the sanction that can be imposed. It is interesting to note that the same reasoning was applied by the EU Commission in the ISU decision. And everyone knows the outcome of this case.

Thirdly, the choice of the CAS to refer back the case to the Adjudicatory Chamber could mean that the AC Milan/UEFA case is not yet closed definitively. According to Art 29 of the Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body in case of a breach of the UEFA Financial Fair-play regulations the clubs may be sanctioned with the following measures: a) warning, b) reprimand, c) fine, d) deduction of points, e) withholding of revenues from a UEFA competition, f) prohibition on registering new players in UEFA competitions, g) restriction on the number of players that a club may register for participation in UEFA competitions, including a financial limit on the overall aggregate cost of the employee benefits expenses of players registered on the A-list for the purposes of UEFA club competitions, h) disqualification from competitions in progress and/or exclusion from future competitions, i) withdrawal of a title or award. If the exclusion from UEFA competitions is certainly one of the most serious sanctions, there are other particularly serious penalties, such as the prohibition on registering new players in UEFA competitions or the restriction on the number of players that a club may register for participation in UEFA competitions. Consequently, since the seriousness of the ascertained infringement seems to exclude that the Adjudicatory Chamber may decide to apply a very minimal sanction (such as a warning or a reprimand), it cannot be excluded that the new sanction will also be perceived as excessive and therefore disproportionate. And in this case, at least in theory, nothing could prevent AC Milan from appealing to the CAS by challenging again the disproportionate character of the (new) sanction.

8. The Meca Medina and Majcen ruling presents many ambiguities and for this reason is rightly criticized. To say nothing else, it cannot be ignored that the extension of the proportionality test also to the sanctioning system provided for by sports regulations raises at least two fundamental problems: (a) firstly, to establish which criteria are to be used to determine the proportionate character of the sanctions; and (b) secondly, the opportunity to invest judges or arbitrators of such a task. However, the recent case-law of the CAS on the proportionality test of UEFA Financial Fair-play regulations seems to reveal no less serious concerns and perplexities.


[1] For more details, see my blog and Ben Van Rompuy’s blog.

 

[2] As a consequence one could argue that the decision of the panel to find that the sanction is disproportionate is probably connected to the fact that Milan was not offered a settlement.

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Asser International Sports Law Blog | The Impact of the new FIFA Regulations for Intermediaries: A comparative analysis of Brazil, Spain and England. By Luis Torres

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

The Impact of the new FIFA Regulations for Intermediaries: A comparative analysis of Brazil, Spain and England. By Luis Torres

INTRODUCTION

Almost a year after their announcement, the new FIFA Regulations on working with Intermediaries (“FIFA Regulations”) came into force on 1 April 2015. Their purpose is to create a more simple and transparent system of regulation of football agents. It should be noted, however, that the new FIFA rules enable every national football association to regulate their own system on players’ intermediaries, provided they respect the compulsory minimum requirements adopted. In an industry that is already cutthroat, it thus remains to be seen whether FIFA’s “deregulation” indeed creates transparency, or whether it is a Pandora’s Box to future regulatory confusion.

This blog post will provide an overview of the new FIFA Regulations on working with intermediaries and especially its minimum requirements. Provided that national associations are encouraged to “draw up regulations that shall incorporate the principles established in these provisions”[1], three different national regulations have been taken as case-studies: the English FA Regulations, the Spanish RFEF Regulations and the Brazilian CBF Regulations. After mapping their main points of convergence and principal differences, the issues that could arise from these regulatory differences shall be analyzed.  


FIFA REGULATIONS ON WORKING WITH INTERMEDIARIES

The objective of the new Regulations, as explained in a blog dated from 3 July 2014, is no longer to regulate access to the activity of players’ agents (now ‘intermediaries’), but to provide a framework for a better control of the activity itself by establishing minimum standards and requirements and by installing a transparent registration system.[2]

The most significant change is that FIFA introduced a provision recommending to cap the maximum remuneration an intermediaries should derive from an individual transfer. Article 7(3) holds that the maximum commission payable to an intermediary should be 3% of the player’s basic gross income (regarding an employment contract) or 3% of an eventual transfer fee (transfer agreement). Additionally, FIFA prohibits any payment when the player concerned is a minor. These two restrictions have triggered a complaint of the AFA (UK Association of Football Agents) before the European Commission. Moreover, in Germany, the company Rogon Sport Management challenged the new DFB regulations for intermediaries and won a partial victory in a preliminary ruling of the Regional Court of Frankfurt.[3] They argue that these regulations could lead to an infringement of the competition law. This issue will be developed in a different blog post later this week.

Another minimum requirement set by FIFA is the obligation for all intermediaries to submit an Intermediary Declaration (Annex 1 and 2 FIFA Regulations) to the relevant association. This is due each time an individual or a company wishes to be registered as an intermediary with a national association, and also in order to register a transaction in which he acts on behalf of a player or a club. By signing the Declaration, the intermediary is supposed to be bound to the FIFA Regulations, in addition to the regulations of every confederation and association to which he is contractually related.

Furthermore it is stipulated that legal persons can also be considered ‘intermediaries’ under the new Regulations.[4] However, they do not provide any criteria defining how the national associations are required to register the legal persons acting as intermediaries.

The FIFA Regulations prohibit any payment to the intermediary in connection with a transfer compensation (other than the commission established in the Article 7(3)), training compensation and solidarity contributions. Moreover, in accordance with provision 7(4) of the FIFA Regulations, no compensation can be based on the future transfer value of a player.

Another compulsory prerequisite at stake is that the intermediary ought to be registered with the association where he desires to provide his services prior to initiate any activity (Article 3(1) FIFA Regulations). As will be highlighted below, this provision has important practical consequences. Finally, FIFA no longer claims jurisdiction over disputes that could arise between intermediaries and their clients or other intermediaries. It entrusted the national associations to deal with these kind of disputes. The national associations shall establish proper dispute resolution mechanisms to hear these disputes.   


NATIONAL REGULATIONS ON WORKING WITH INTERMEDIARIES

With the objective of analysing how the different associations have implemented the new intermediaries’ system, three different national regulations will be compared: The FA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries, the RFEF (Spain) Regulations and the CBF (Brazil) Regulations. 


1. The FA (England)

The FA was the first association to publish new provisions regulating intermediaries (”FA Regulations”). It should be pointed out that the new FA Regulations are to a large extent similar to the former FA Agents Regulations. For example, the assignment or subcontracting services or duties, the definition of interest, the dual representation standards and the payment to the intermediary by the club on the player’s behalf as a taxable benefit were already included in the former FA Agents Regulations. 

Nevertheless, it is surprising that the FA Regulations do not require the intermediary to submit an Intermediary Declaration, even though it is a mandatory requirement imposed by the FIFA regulations. As stated above, national associations, such as the FA, are required to implement and enforce these minimum standards/requirements. It is not excluded that FIFA, based on Article 10 FIFA Regulations, will “take appropriate measures if the relevant principles are not complied with”.

The FA prescribes that all intermediaries are to undertake the so-called ‘Test of Good Character and Reputation for Intermediaries’. By undertaking this ‘Test’, the intermediary is asked to demonstrate his impeccable reputation and declares that he has not been convicted for any offence related to his services as an intermediary.

The individual who wishes to register himself as intermediary with the FA will have to pay a registration fee of £500 (around 690 €) for the first registration. However, this fee is waived to those who were already ‘FA Registered Agents’ on 31 March 2015. Instead, in order to remain registered as an intermediary, an annual renewal fee of £250 (around 345 €) will de be due.

Additionally, if the intermediary wishes to act on behalf of minors, he must obtain a specific authorisation from the FA. He will need to provide the FA with the ‘Disclosure and Barring Service check’ (CRB check), which enables in the UK to make better informed recruitment decisions by identifying candidates who may be unsuitable for certain work, especially involving children, or an equivalent for non-English intermediaries. Moreover, regulation B8 FA Regulations prohibits any approach to, or enter into an agreement with, a player before the start of the calendar year in which he turns 16.

Out of the three national associations analysed, the FA is the only association that has provisions regarding the existing representation contracts lodged with the FA before 1 April 2015. These contracts have to be resubmitted to the FA within 10 days of the intermediary registering with the FA.

For the purpose of the representation contracts between a player and an intermediary the maximum length will be two years (regulation B10).

With respect to legal persons, the FA Regulations impose the obligation to register the company/partnership by an individual already registered as an intermediary. Moreover, any individual carrying out intermediary activities on behalf of a legal person must be registered as well.[5]  

Lastly, the FA adopted the same wording as FIFA in relation to the 3% recommendation (C11 FA Regulations). However, the English football association also published a statement (‘Intermediaries Guidance Notes’) indicating that this ‘recommendation’ is non-binding and that clubs and players are free to remunerate intermediaries as they wish. It is clear that this provision could generate doubts regarding the amount of the compensation that the intermediary is entitled to. In fact, the 3% recommendation is significantly lower than the 5-10% commission rates that licensed agents tended to receive[6]. However, with this statement, the FA is not precluding an intermediary and his client to agree on a percentage higher than 3%.

2. RFEF (Spain)

As far as the RFEF (Spanish association) Regulations on working with Intermediaries (“RFEF Regulations”) are concerned, they are the most in line with the FIFA Regulations as compared to the FA and CBF Regulations. The Intermediary Declarations are attached as Annex 1 and 2 at the end of the Regulations.  The registration fee for the first registration as an intermediary in Spain is 861 €. Registration has to be renewed on a yearly basis. However, it is yet unknown what the exact costs will be for renewing the registration. Similar to the FA’s ‘Test of Good Character and Reputation’, the RFEF provides a ‘Code of Ethics’ (Annex 3), which has to be signed by the applicant. Furthermore, the maximum length of a representation contract between a player or a club and an intermediary is two years.[7] Although the maximum length of contracts in England is also two years, it should be kept in mind that the FA Regulations only refer to contracts between intermediaries and players, not between intermediaries and clubs.

The most controversial aspect of the Spanish Regulations is the way that the Registration Procedure (Article 4) is designed. The steps for becoming a RFEF Intermediary are summarized as follows:

  1. The potential intermediary has to provide a written request addressed to the RFEF General Secretariat (“Secretaría General”).

  2. After the application is declared admissible, the RFEF will grant the individual the status of “Applicant”. Subsequently, the RFEF will convoke the applicant for an interview and decides whether the Applicant is ‘suitable to advice’ clients on the football market.   

  3. If the outcome of the interview is positive, the Applicant must provide the following documents: ID, VAT number (for legal persons), two pictures, CV, Intermediary Declaration, the payment of the Registration Fee, return the former agent license (if any) and the Code of Ethics. 

Another interesting point is that the Spanish Regulations do not provide any information on the intermediary’s remuneration. Bearing in mind that FIFA recommends the remuneration to be 3%, it will be interesting to see the consequences of the RFEF’s decision to disregard this recommendation.

This could be understood as an implicit challenge to the ‘3% recommendation’. In practice, this omission has similar consequences than the solution adopted by the English FA. In short, FIFA’s recommendation is treated as a soft advise rather than a binding legal standard.


3. CBF (Brazil)

The CBF (Brazilian association) Regulations on Working with Intermediaries (“CBF Regulations”), were approved on 24 April 2015. In order to be registered as an intermediary, the individual must provide the Intermediary Declaration attached in Annexes 1 and 2 to the Regulations. The registration fee has not been published yet. The applicant should also deliver a declaration stating that he has neither conflicts of interest nor a criminal record. Moreover, the potential CBF intermediary is required to take out a professional liability insurance for the amount of 200,000 ‘reais’ (around 60,000 €). Thus, the CBF, taking advantage of its right to ‘go beyond’ the minimum requirements imposed by FIFA, has introduced a feature of the former Agents Regulations that the new FIFA Regulations had abandoned, i.e. the professional liability insurance.[8]

Following the line of the FA and the RFEF, the Representation Contract shall not last more than “24 months” (Article 11(3)). Given that the Regulations do not state whether it refers to contracts with players or clubs, it can be inferred that all parties are subject to this restriction. On the other hand, the CBF prohibits in article 11(2) to extend the Representation Contract tacitly, a renewal in writing is necessary.

The remuneration of the intermediary is regulated in the same way as in the FIFA Regulations, except for one detail concerning the transfer fee: in Brazil, the remuneration, which should not exceed 3%, amount must be calculated on the basis of the “possible basic gross income for the entire duration of the relevant employment contract” (article 19.III), instead of a share of the transfer fee as envisaged by the FIFA, RFEF or FA Regulations.

Finally, Article 4 expands the scope of application of these regulations to ‘international activities’, specifically “operations regarding the negotiation of an employment contract or players’ transfer which have effect in a different national association”. By means of this Article, an operation which takes place out of the CBF jurisdiction has to be registered by the ‘CBF Intermediary’ with the CBF. As a consequence, the CBF Intermediary must register the operation with two federations: first, the national association where the operation takes place, and second, the CBF, where the only connection is the intermediary. 


Table providing an overview of the main requirements stipulated by the FIFA, FA, RFEF and CBF Regulations

 

FIFA

FA

RFEF

CBF

Intermediary Declaration

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

 

Test of Good Character (or similar)

No

Yes

Test of Good Character and Reputation for Intermediaries (FA form)

Yes

Code of ethics (Annex 3)

No

 

Registration Fee

No

Yes

-£500 (690 €)

-£250 (345 €): the following renewals

Yes

-861 €: 1st year

-Could change the following years

 

-unknown-

Interview and other additional documents

No

Yes

‘Declarations, Acknowledgments and Consents’ Form

Yes

Written request, Interview, 2 photos, CV.

Yes

Criminal record, copy professional liability insurance.

Maximum years Representation Contract with Player

No

Yes

2 years

Yes

2 years

Yes

2 years

3% remuneration recommendation

Yes

Yes

No

Yes, but on the future wage of the player


 CONCLUSION

The mandatory registration requirement for intermediaries with the relevant national association, as stipulated by the FIFA Regulations, the FA Regulations, the RFEF regulations and the CBF Regulations, leave room for a wealth of legal uncertainties that will need to be clarified by football’s governing bodies and the various courts (and also the EU Commission) called to pronounce themselves on those regulations.  Specifically, should an intermediary register himself with every single association where he is supposed to act on behalf of his clients? What would happen if on 31 August (summer transfer window deadline) a Spanish club calls him to sign one of his players and he is not registered in Spain as an intermediary?

Furthermore, every association has a registration fee to satisfy prior to the registration of around 500 €. Taking into account the international dimension of football and its transfer market, it could well be necessary for an intermediary to register himself with a dozen of associations simply to carry out his profession effectively. As a result, he would have to spend roughly 6.000 € in registration fees on a yearly basis.  

Subsequently, this could lead to an increase of the number of corporations, which provide intermediary services. Indeed, the recourse to a transnational agency employing a number of intermediaries registered with different national associations would be a very efficient way to tackle this problem. Thus, at medium long-term, at least at the international level, the new system will probably not generate the chaos that some authors are predicting. In fact, rather than opening the market to everyone, these requirements could well be a barrier of entry for many intermediaries and might trigger a consolidation of the market in a smaller number of bigger players. This has bad sides, less competition, and good sides, more sophisticated players more likely to provide quality services and to care about their long-term reputation. In short, we predict that only the main ‘cowboys’ in the ‘wild west’ will be able to play by the new rules of the game for football intermediaries.



[1] Nick de Marco, “The new FA Intermediaries Regulations & disputes likely to arise”, available at lawinsport.com, 31 March 2015.

[2] Daniel Lowen, ‘A Guide To The FA’s Regulations on Working with Intermediaries’ www.lawinsport.com, 17 February 2015.

[3] Handelsblatt, “Gericht gibt Spielervermittler teils recht”, 30 April 2015.

[4] See FIFA Regulations on Working with intermediaries: Definition of an intermediary, page 4

[5] Appendix II FA Regulations

[6] UEFA ‘Club Licensing Benchmarking Report 2012’, page 54. http://www.uefa.org/MultimediaFiles/Download/Tech/uefaorg/General/02/09/18/26/2091826_DOWNLOAD.pdf

[7] Article 8(4) RFEF Regulations

[8] Article 5(e) CBF Regulations

Comments (2) -

  • Marc Peltier

    5/11/2015 4:03:54 PM |

    Interesting article on the new rules. In France, we have a national legislation which is different from FIFA rules. You still have to pass an exam to get a license in order to be authorized to work as an agent.
    Marc Peltier
    Associate professor
    University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis

  • Gerald Ibeh.

    2/28/2017 10:48:30 AM |

    please how much is required to register a company to act as intermediary in Netherland,Germany,Italy,france,portugal & England.if possible i need a breakdown & requirements of registering a company to act as intermediary in all Uefa member associations.

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