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The new football agent regulations – where are we now?

03 January 2024

Those working in the football industry were given a Christmas treat over the festive period. Firstly, after many months of uncertainty and waiting, the FA finally confirmed on 21 December 2023 that the FA’s new Football Agent Regulations will enter into force on 1 January 2024 and will supersede The FA’s Working with Intermediaries Regulations.

However, just as everyone was adapting to those new regulations, FIFA introduced a significant twist by issuing Circular 1873 on 30 December 2023. This circular confirmed that several crucial provisions within the FIFA Football Agent Regulations (“FFAR”) would be temporarily suspended pending the outcome of an injunction granted by the Dortmund District Court in Germany.

FIFA recommended that all national associations follow suit. This prompted the FA to swiftly release an updated version of the FA Football Agent Regulations at around 8pm on New Year’s Eve. A copy of those updated regulations can be accessed here.
The timing of these developments could not have been more inconvenient, considering the Christmas period and the commencement of the transfer window on January 1. With the multitude of changes, it is not surprising that many individuals in the football industry are finding it challenging to stay abreast of which rules are currently suspended and which ones remain applicable.

Which rules are currently suspended?

  • Restrictions on multiple representation - Agents can continue representing multiple parties provided all parties provide prior written consent and have the opportunity to seek independent legal advice. Clubs can also pay more than 50% of the total service fee in dual representation arrangements. Nevertheless, it is advisable for clubs, agents, and players involved to seek tax advice in such situations.
  • The client pays principle - Clubs can continue to make payments on behalf of a player or a coach as a benefit in kind.
  • Service fee cap - In addition to the service fee cap not applying to English transactions following the successful legal challenge brought by various agencies, FIFA’s announcement clarified that the service fee cap will also not apply to international transactions for the time being.
  • Other service payment rules - The other rules concerning service fee payments, including those governing timing and the mandatory use of the FIFA clearing house, are currently on hold.
  • FIFA Platform - Presently, there is no obligation to submit documents to the FIFA agents’ platform, and the rules in the FFAR concerning disclosure and publication are not in force for the time being.

Which rules remain in place?

Whilst many of the important and controversial provisions in both the FFAR and FA Football Agent Regulations are temporarily suspended, it is important to recognise that these regulations are not suspended in full, and they still apply to international and domestic transactions. Notable provisions remaining include:

  • Licensing and Registration - Agents are still required to possess a FIFA agent licence to conduct services worldwide and must be registered as an FA registered agent to perform football agent services in England. Players, coaches, and clubs are still prohibited from engaging with an unregistered or unlicensed agent. Therefore, it is prudent to verify an agent's status before any involvement.
  • Coaches - The FFAR and FA Football Agent Regulations will continue to apply to coaches as well as players.
  • Agencies - Agencies can no longer perform football agent services or register as an agent. While agencies can enter into representation agreements, an FA-registered agent, i.e., a natural person, must also be a party and the one performing the football agent services on behalf of the player/coach. Agencies already party to existing representation agreements must promptly inform the FA and their client which FA registered agent will perform the services going forwards.
  • Minors - There are no changes to the strict rules on minors. Agents must obtain additional authorisation from both FIFA and the FA in order to work with minors and in England agents cannot approach or enter into any form of agreement with a minor until the 1 January in the academic year in which the minor reaches the age of 16 and after prior written consent has been received from the minor’s legal guardian. Any violation of the rules relating to minors will continue to be treated seriously and shall be sanctioned, at a minimum, with a fine and a suspension of up to two years.
  • Representation Agreements - The new rules in relation to representation agreements remain in place:
  • Before entering into or amending a representation agreement, the agent must inform the player/coach that they should consider taking independent legal advice or advice from the PFA or LMA (as applicable);
  • Representation agreements (both new and existing) must still be lodged through the new FA portal;
  • Any clause that limits or penalises a player or coach’s ability to autonomously negotiate and conclude an employment contract without the involvement of an FA registered football agent will be null and void. Pending further guidance, this appears to prevent the current common practice of agents still being entitled to receive their agreed fee in the event that a player or a coach negotiates and concludes an employment contract themselves; and
  • The FA Football Regulations and FFAR will govern all transactions from 1 January 2024, thus clauses in existing representation agreements that do not comply with the regulations will be unenforceable (except for representation agreements entered into prior to 16 December 2022). Therefore, it may be advisable to amend such agreements to ensure compliance going forwards. Any representation agreements entered into from 1 January 2024 must adhere to the regulations.
  • Approaches - Agents remain prohibited from approaching, and entering into representation agreements with, players, coaches and clubs who are bound by an exclusive representation agreement with another agent except in the final two months of that exclusive representation agreement. The definition of an approach is broad, encompassing any means of contact, including electronic communication, and indirect contact through individuals linked to the player or using intermediaries on the agent's behalf. Clubs should also note that they are prevented from interfering in, or influencing, the freedom of a player or coach to select an agent.

How long will the existing rules remain in place?

FIFA claims that the suspension of the regulations is necessary to comply with the preliminary injunction issued by the District Court of Dortmund back in May 2023 which prohibits FIFA from enforcing the FFAR pending a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Justice. Notably absent from FIFA's statement is any acknowledgment of other successful legal challenges in countries like England, Spain, and Brazil, along with decisions by national associations in Italy, France, and the Netherlands to refrain from full implementation of the FFAR. The significant delay in FIFA's decision, announced just two days before the opening of the transfer window, raises questions about whether it was solely influenced by the German injunction.

FIFA has confirmed that the suspension will remain in place until the European Court of Justice renders a final decision in the pending procedures concerning the FFAR. Given the potentially protracted nature of those legal proceedings, it is probable that the current rules will remain in effect for an extended period. Even if the European Court of Justice deems the FFAR compliant, the challenges posed by various domestic rulings, particularly in England—the largest transfer market where the service fee cap and quarterly payment provisions cannot be enforced—must present an ongoing challenge for FIFA.

If you have any specific queries, please do not hesitate to contact John Shea.

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