Ever since 2014/15 I have voiced concerns and rejected the changing of the football agent regulations and the implementation of the concept of ‘Football Intermediaries’ and the related regulations (some would say ‘deregulation’). Even to the extent that since the implementation of the new regulations in April 2015, I have increasingly remonstrated and campaigned against the regulations (or lack thereof), albeit primarily from a domestic perspective in the UK, whilst others have taken similar steps in other countries.

Now, what I am going to say here may shock a lot of people, both those who know me and those who are well aware of how much I have said things somewhat to the contrary in the past (for example in the article here : “Would the Footballing World Be Better Without FIFA? …. An Agents’ Perpective”).

However, I now believe that FIFA may have been right with the thought process (if not the changes) they implemented in April 2015 regarding ‘Football Agents’ (Intermediaries), although the implementation and application of the regulatory changes were arguably ‘half-baked’ and ineffective. Now, I can imagine the sharp intake of breath, cries of ‘WTF’ and rising anger amongst some from the fact of me even contemplating this thought process; but please bear with me, I have not ‘lost my mind’, and I will try to explain.

Maybe I was wrong, and FIFA was right ? …….. well sort of.

What has prompted this major change of heart on my part and an alteration to the thought process and message I have laboured for so long; is a simple process of raising my own awareness of the underlying fact of good governance. Since my decision to change career path somewhat and also the advent of ‘lockdown’ caused by COVID-19 (corona virus); like many others I decided to look at a bit of CPD (continued professional development), and just one of these areas of study I have undertaken is the subject of ‘governance’ (both corporate and sports). This subsequently has changed my view of what I believe FIFA may have been trying to achieve with the agent regulation changes implemented in 2015.

Have I ‘lost my mind’, or just tried to understand the aim rather than application?

When these changes were first announced back in 2014 in any sort of agreed draft (and worked on for several years previously), they were labelled by many as FIFA ‘deregulating’ the industry of football agents, which isn’t entirely true. Although, as I have pointed out many times before, it was FIFA themselves who termed it as an ‘abandoning’ of the agent regulations and agents license which probably wasn’t the best choice of phrase.

Now with a bit of a better understanding of good governance, I do believe this was possibly the right step for FIFA to take in at the time; in ‘rolling back’ the agent/intermediary regulations and simplifying them down to an underlying framework and thus looking at devolving some of the regulatory responsibility to the National Football Associations.

Maybe in hindsight FIFA had started to recognise that to try and apply a set of regulations across many continents and countries with varying legal, commercial, personal, business practices and traits, was simply not viable in the realm of football agents (intermediaries). As such, in applying a stripped back ‘concept framework/model’ (as per many good governance models) they could lay the foundations for a system that underpinned a more manageable structure and allowed for the national associations to apply the nuances applicable to their own individual jurisdictions, thus becoming better regulated?


Where did it go wrong then, if FIFA were right in 2015?

So, where did it all go wrong since 2015, as arguably the industry and regulation of football intermediaries (agents) has in the eyes of many worsened; and the concept and rules governing intermediaries simply hasn’t worked – something even FIFA has recognised (as covered in this past article :“Have FIFA Finally Realised their Error of ‘Abandoning’ the Football Agents License (and Regulations) in 2015?”).

No, it isn’t the impact of questionable World Cup bidding processes or the intervention of the FBI or Swiss Prosecutors into FIFAs past dealings; but simply the fact that the new regulations from FIFA implemented in April 2015 were not seemingly applied correctly, not properly implemented or followed through.

Whilst some National Football Associations have arguably taken a more responsible stance in the regulation of football agents and some have used FIFAs 2015 framework to underpin their own ‘Intermediary Regulations’, many have not, and simply ‘ridden on the back’ of FIFAs framework to ultimately use it as an excuse to degrade their own regulations and do the minimal amount of effective regulation of football intermediaries and agents.

Hence, in the National Football Associations seemingly choosing to use FIFAs 2015 Intermediary framework to relax the regulation of agents/intermediaries, are FIFA solely to blame? Well on reflection ‘yes, they are to blame’ but not solely to the extent I once believed.

Some of the main things to note from FIFA’s intermediary regulations implemented in 2015 are:

These regulations shall serve as minimum standards/requirements that must be implemented by each association at national level, the latter having the possibility of further adding thereto


FIFA’s – Regulations on Working with Intermediaries : ‘Preamble’

Associations are required to implement and enforce at least these minimum standards/requirements in accordance with the duties assigned in these regulations, subject to the mandatory laws and any other mandatory national legislative norms applicable to the associations. Associations shall draw up regulations that shall incorporate the principles established in these provisions.


FIFA’s – Regulations on Working with Intermediaries : 1-2

The right of associations to go beyond these minimum standards/requirements is preserved.


FIFA’s – Regulations on Working with Intermediaries : 1-3

10-1.

FIFA shall monitor the proper implementation of these minimum standards/requirements by the associations and may take appropriate measures if the relevant principles are not complied with.

FIFA’s – Regulations on Working with Intermediaries : 10-1

….. so, questions have to be asked:

  1. Why did many National Football Associations see these regulations as an excuse to take retrograde steps and/or do the minimal amount of regulation?
  2. Why did many National Football Associations fail to embrace the opportunity to enhance the regulations (as permitted) to safeguard the interests of participants in their territory?  
  3. Why didn’t FIFA ensure the minimum standards were implemented by the National Associations and actively ‘encourage’ national associations to go beyond the FIFA ‘framework’?
  4. Why are there seemingly many reported cases of the most basic aspects of the 2015 FIFA Intermediary ‘framework’ not being adequately applied by National Associations and thus FIFA not taking action against those Associations for not applying adequate sanctions, thus encouraging improvement?

FIFAs own ‘change of heart’ in regulating Football Agents in 2019

Now, in light of the fact that FIFA have seemingly recognised that the changes they implemented in April 2015 have not worked; is the decision to implement new agent regulations based on those that pre-dated 2015 a step in the right direction? Well personally in one way it is, but in another it is seemingly just ‘turning back the clock’ and trying to ‘put the genie back in the bottle’.  Trying to do what failed before, not to mention in a far more volatile and unregulated industry.

Some may say that the reason for FIFA choosing to dramatically do a U-turn is because of the way the intermediary/agent industry has further degraded and become more out of control; but I firmly believe this step by FIFA is prompted more by the well-publicised excesses and ‘influence’ of a few so-called ‘Super-Agents’ and positive PR for FIFA, moreso than a desire to improve regulation en-masse.


In conclusion – I was wrong, but FIFA weren’t necessarily right

So, I am big enough to say that maybe I was wrong in such vehement criticism of what FIFA may have been trying to achieve in 2015.

Yet, instead of looking to revert back to regulations and licensing procedures similar to those pre 2015 they would in my mind do better to enhance the 2015 framework and along with the Football Confederations shifting their focus and responsibility to National Associations in implementing effective and fair regulations in their own individual territories based on the FIFA framework. This, rather than National Football Associations seemingly using a useful (albeit arguably weak) framework as an excuse to shirk responsibility and doing the bare minimum.