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Expert comment: The problem with football 'agents'

Serhat Yilmaz, Lecturer in Sports Law at Loughborough University, believes that football agency regulations are at the heart of the corruption problem faced by the sport...

Serhat Yilmaz
Lecturer in Sports Law, Loughborough University School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

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Serhat Yilmaz: When we look at other parts of the world, the problem was the enforcement and implementation of the rules, therefore there were a number of irregularities within the activities of player agents. This involved, for instance, exploitation of minor players and financial irregularities, as well as unlicensed player agents operating within the market. As a result of that, FIFA decided to deregulate the market and approach the system in a completely different way. The decision was taken back in 2009 and they initiated a consultation framework, which led to the new regulatory framework, which is defined as the 'concept of intermediaries'. Instead of regulating the agents as an individual themselves, it regulates the transaction - the transfer activity. 

What we see is that the problems persist but the licensing regularity framework has been reformed and replaced by deregulation of the market for what we have defined as 'intermediaries' now.  It's basically open to abuse and manipulation.  

In order to fix the issue first and foremost, sport governing bodies must take an action. We know the fact that when we analysed the intermediary register at the English FA, some of these agents (in the news) are currently registered intermediaries and therefore under the jurisdiction of the English FA. This actually provides an opportunity for the English FA to investigate the matter fully and to take the necessary disciplinary action. It will send a message to the public that actually sport governing bodies are doing something about the issue. 

One of the tools that FIFA developed at the same time was the Transfer Matching System (TMS), which basically now oversees the international transfer where both buying and selling clubs need to lodge a variety of information related to the transfer in order to get international transfer certification. What it means is that anyone can become an intermediary, i.e. agent. For instance, what is astonishing even though he is not registered as an intermediary, Pino Paliagra, an unlicensed agent who has been convicted of match fixing and banned from footballing activities, is still able to come back into the player market and continue activities under the radar. Currently, the system doesn't prevent any of these individuals from registering as an intermediary and becoming active in the player market. 

It is, according to FIFA, and some of the comments by the FA, they feel that they are not able to police these issues due to these individuals are outside their jurisdiction, but considering the size of commercial side of the game and the money coming into football, they need to invest more in proper monitoring, administration and enforcement of the system - this is fundamental. Although the new regulatory framework is into its second year, we still need to see whether it's going to be effective in tackling these issues but it seems that there is a clear problem with this framework that is going to contribute to these problems. Medium to long term, these governing bodies may need to reconsider the position and may end up reforming the system again.

The problem with the current system is that because it's focusing on the transaction, the liability lies with the players and the clubs - they are the ones responsible for the conduct of the intermediaries they are using. What we are seeing now is the system claiming its first victims, who are the managers. I think what we might see in the medium run is the players and clubs becoming responsible for the actions of the intermediaries they are using. There is now big responsibility on the representatives of these players and clubs to make sure that the actions of these individuals are protected. I don't think they evaluated the situation well and I don't think that this is beneficial to the stakeholders of the game. So, there is actually big responsibility on these institutions to ensure that they protect the interest of their members. 

[Clubs] have to make sure that they see [agents'] registration certificates. They have to make their due diligence and, if it's required, they need to seek legal advice. Moving forward, we have to educate these players and club executives - even managers - about the rules and regulations applicable to intermediaries and also they need to know what their rights and regulations are when dealing with these individuals.  

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