This article is co-authored by Katie Pawlyn, Paralegal, Commercial & Tech.
FIFA has published the latest edition of its Commentary on the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players. With the 2021 edition at 500 pages long compared to the 2007 edition at 150 pages, the increasing complexity of football regulations which has taken place over the last 14 years is evident.
Global guidance for governance in football
FIFA regulations govern the status of players, their eligibility to compete and their transfer between teams.
The Commentary provides guidance on these regulations to encourage consistent implementation globally. The new edition reviews each provision of the Regulations with explanations of purpose and scope as well as supplementary information including references to case law to assist with interpretation. This is particularly useful because, over the years, the Regulations and the previous Commentary have been applied by FIFA’s decision-making bodies as well as The Court of Arbitration for Sport. This Commentary is relevant to football players, clubs, leagues and anyone involved in a future hearing.
4 key takeaways
- Termination of contracts: FIFA is keen to promote stability between players and clubs and, accordingly, there is a whole chapter on terminating contracts. Set out are just causes for terminating contracts, restrictions on termination during the season, and consequences for terminating without a just cause. A ‘just cause’ is when the other party has failed to comply with a fundamental term or condition of the arrangement under the contract, with no consequences of termination. Where there is no just cause, the terminating party must pay compensation and, in some cases, there may be match bans. While the underlying principles are mostly unchanged, this section is most relevant for both players and clubs when not seeing “eye-to-eye”.
- International transfer of minors: The considerable increase in globalisation since the Regulations were first published sees this area inevitably highlighted. FIFA is keen to protect young players and confirmed the risks associated with their engagement in the global football community, with only limited exceptions to the broad restrictions of the international transfer of minors. Parents or guardians of young players and the clubs employing them should follow this latest guidance carefully to avoid future sanction.
- Bridge transfers: This is when a player is transferred from club A to club C via club B in the attempt to circumvent certain regulations or to attempt to defraud a third party. Generally the player would only spend a few weeks at club B before moving to their intended club. Bridge transfers differ from loans because they are permanent moves away from club A. Bridge transfers have not been previously addressed by FIFA but have been noted by FIFA to affect the fairness of organised football. FIFA wishes to prevent such activity and the Regulations require transfers for legitimate sporting reasons only.
- Third party influence: This is another area not previously covered by FIFA’s Commentary. The growth of football has attracted greater levels of investment from third parties and high profile companies have invested in several areas with multiple investments within each. By way of example, Red Bull sponsors numerous competitions and teams spanning a variety of different sports. Fairness in football is key and FIFA has warned of the dangers of allowing third parties to unduly influence clubs, matches, competitions, and so forth, including a loss of autonomy to determine policies and in recruitment and transfer processes, such as selection decisions. The Commentary sets out the line between legitimate involvement by third parties, and third party investment which has the aim of directly influencing a club’s autonomy or even the performance of a team, which is understandably banned. This section is a must read for potential club investors.
This new Commentary from FIFA is certain to be a very useful tool in the interpretation of the Regulations and highly relevant in the event of any disputes. The football community has a duty to understand exactly what is covered and to check their approach remains compliant.
Hamlins provides a unique offering to the sports industry, delivering a combination of commercial, IP, corporate, regulatory, privacy and reputation management expertise. If you are in the football community and want a conversation about your club’s approach to compliance with the latest Regulations, please get in touch.