Over recent years the English FA and football in general have quite rightly been placed firmly ‘under the spotlight’ with regards to safeguarding. Yet, whilst it has been reported that steps have been taken towards improving such matters; has enough been done, or is it a matter of just repairing mistakes of the past or damage limitation?

Just one of the things to be considered in all of this is the matter of the checks and measures that are done for football registered ‘intermediaries’ (the former incarnation being ‘authorised agents’) in regards to safeguarding.

 

Have the FA Allowed an Unsavoury Safeguarding Genie Out of The Bottle?

 

Who Loosened the Stopper in the Bottle?

Back in 2015 FIFA abandoned the old football agents license and the corresponding regulations and system with an arguably ‘watered down’ version of regulations governing the regulation of ‘Football Intermediaries’. Beyond the basic framework set out by FIFA, the national football associations were permitted to go beyond the FIFA framework with their own domestic regulations.

So, with that in mind you may well be asking where this left the FA, who arguably at that time had some of the best agent regulations in the world adding to the previous framework with additional measures of their own; surely it was an opportunity for them to cement this position as ‘standard bearers’ on such regulatory matters?

But no, we can confidently conclude that the FA selected to ‘dumb down’ their own intermediary/agent regulations, along with the entry requirements for those to operate as football intermediaries. Putting aside the matter of the agents exam, and the requirement for professional indemnity cover (to protect to an extent those that they represent) one of the crucially discounted elements for intermediaries was the requirement to undertake a DBS check (or similar). Subsequently under the new regulations this was only required if the intermediary wanted to represent minors (players under the age of 18), whereas before ALL licensed agents needed to complete such a ‘check’ to be licensed.

Now granted many agents/intermediaries have no preconceived intention of representing minors (dare I say for some it is because there is little or no profitability in it either short or long term), but the football environment in which intermediaries (agents) operate (e.g. academies, stadia, training grounds) will no doubt lead to their paths crossing with players who are minors or indeed the families of such players; resulting in such safeguarding related checks being a necessity, no matter the intermediaries immediate intentions

 

An Easy Life for The FA, or Creating Work?

If you are to ask why the FA chose to dilute their agent/intermediary regulations in 2015, the ‘party line’ may well be so that they could better regulate the industry and concentrate on the ‘most important matters’. So is that to say ‘safeguarding was not of that great importance or that the criminal records checks (CRB / DBS) for ALL intermediaries was no longer deemed a mandatory requirement by the FA?

More-so, is the action of literally ‘ticking a box’ on a self-declaration by the applicant sufficient to say that they were clear of any defined misdemeanours for registration as a ‘registered intermediary’, and thus adjudged enough of a check by the FA? With that in mind, does the person entering your high street branch of Barclays wearing a motorcycle helmet and brandishing a baseball bat not provide for sufficient reason for bank staff to ‘think twice’ on the basis of them wearing a t-shirt saying ‘don’t worry I am not a bank robber?

I think I can be excused in questioning whether the FA are the best placed (or have the necessary means or ability) to evaluate an applicant in terms of safeguarding when compared to that of the likes of for example the NCA, City of London Police, DFEE, HMRC or indeed the Disclosure and Barring Service (who undertake the DBS checks for the likes of the FA ), and surely on such safeguarding issues checks should be as rigid yet sensible as they can be.

Despite asking for clarification, I been given no information by the FA to the contrary to satisfy that checks are any more in-depth than the basic application or DBS (when applied). Yet with the increase in the number of FA Registered Intermediaries since 2015 (and the minority of those with DBS clearance), the chances of the FA enhancing such checks is difficult to imagine, especially as even prior to 2015 several ‘loopholes’ were clearly exposed and not addressed by the FA with regards to ‘authorised agents’.

With all this in mind would it not have been wiser for the FA to maintain the previous FA agent licensing requirement that ALL registered intermediaries undertook a DBS check, and then all met the same standard. After all it didn’t cost the FA anything, and the FA would have maintained an extra safeguarding measure and provided themselves and other football participants with more peace of mind?

The fact that since the change in regulations, a large proportion of breaches of the regulations for intermediaries appear to have been in cases where the intermediary in question has not had clearance to represent minors. I would argue that this specific decision to abandon the mandatory CRB/DBS check for ALL intermediaries and agents was, at best very poorly considered or properly thought out, and at worst a breach of the FAs duty of care to many of the games participants.

 

Money Spinner or a Waste of Valuable Resources

With the advent of the new agents regulations in 2015 there was also an increase in agent/intermediary registration fees (beyond that of the previous exam/registration fees), and the whole argument as to what this is meant to signify (or indeed achieve) I will touch upon in a separate article.

However, when you consider the increased revenue going to the English FA is more than likely in excess of £2 million in intermediary registration fees since 2015, it is fair to ask the question about said revenue received and how it has been invested on such things as safeguarding measures; even as much as keeping the DBS mandatory for all, but subsidising it. This is in addition to the significant revenue and costs spent and charged in undertaking the administration, investigation and hearings for many of the intermediaries subsequently charged (some would say unnecessarily) since the regulatory changes.

Those charged by the FA are wide and varied; from new intermediaries, established agents, independents, larger agency employees and even an intermediary who works for the PFA (Professional Footballers Association). In addition to this the sanctions and penalties levied by the FA panels are also varied for what is pretty much the same offence in ‘seeking to represent minors without authorisation’. With fines varying from a few hundred pounds to many thousands, and suspensions varying substantially in length the disparity in some cases is quite striking especially when it affects independent intermediaries greatly when they lose their status effectively overnight and thus much (if not all) of their livelihood.

Don’t get me wrong on this I am not arguing the innocence of those who have broken the rules and regulations, and subsequently been charged. Yet, these are cases that prior to 2015 would probably not have come about as the persons in question would not have been licensed in the first place. Thus, not just saving the FA expenditure, but saving the parties in question money and enhancing a key area of safeguarding for all football participants.

For the newer intermediaries charged their confusion may be somewhat understandable (but NOT excusable). Their possible confusion must be noted, given they have had no exam/test (again rescinded by the FA and FIFA in 2015) to establish their basic knowledge of the rules and regulations. And if experienced agents and a PFA official are falling foul of basic regulations there must be an air of uncertainty if not lacking communication from the FA (with no training and limited resources and communication provided by the FA to registered intermediaries).

In light of the changes and apparent oversights, what damage has been caused in The FA appearing to have let this potentially unsavoury safeguarding genie out of its bottle, and what is the damage it could and has caused – which is something I will look at in the second part of this article.

 

PART TWO : The Damage Caused by The FAs’ Escapee Safeguarding Genie?” >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

– http://footballagentblog.chironsportsandmedia.com/2018/08/damage-caused-fas-safeguarding-escapee-genie/