Football agents and minors - the necessity of a balanced approach

"Expertise sport hero football.

Following on from Joel Leigh and Jamie Rhodes' overview of Edge Hill's project "Promoting and Supporting Good Governance in the European Football Agents Industry", a closer look is taken into the report's findings on the relationship between football agents and minors.

Due to the unprecedented commercial rise of football, players that are under 18 years old find themselves in an increasingly vulnerable position. Inexperience and little bargaining power could have a substantially negative impact on minor players, particular those that move abroad to train and compete.

The report notes that, currently the...

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...special rules governing
intermediaries and minors reflect an ambivalent view of intermediaries.

It is recognised by the 2015 Regulations for Working with Intermediaries (RWWI 2015) that agents play a key role in relation to transfer agreements and the conclusion of employment contracts between player and club. Consequently, agents are of significant importance in the protection of minor player's interest in relation to clubs.

However, the Commission claims "there are reports of bad practices in the activities of some agents which have resulted in instances of… exploitation of underage players". The data on "bad agents" is limited, but the risk to young players will be a vital consideration in any amendments to intermediary regulations. The report identified the following topics as potential areas for regulation:

1. Banning Representation by Intermediaries

Regulation of representation is largely governed at the football association (FA) level as RWWI 2015 allows intermediaries to represent players regardless of their age. The report concludes that the ban of intermediary representation of minors may protect against "bad agents", but increases the risk of exploitation by clubs. A ban should only be adopted "if the risk of the player being exploited by the intermediary outweighs the risk of club exploitation and there are no viable options for changing that balance". A ban may also be justified if there are third parties, such as family members, who are trustworthy and capable of protecting the minor player. As it is unlikely that either of these conditions will be fulfilled, the appropriateness of a representation ban is questionable.

2. Guardians Representing Minor Players vis-à-vis Intermediaries

Due to special legislation or the general legal rules of a country, guardian involvement occurs regardless of the content of the relevant sports regulations. Nonetheless, any representation contract between an agent and a minor player must be co-signed by the player's legal guardian(s) in accordance with national law (Article 5.2 RWWI 2015). It was found that "guardian involvement is an essential element of protecting minor players in relation to intermediaries".

3. Relatives as Intermediaries

Since the abolition of the licensing requirement by RWWI 2015, there has been a significant reduction in the requirement for an exemption for relatives to act as intermediaries. However, FAs have taken diverging approaches towards registration requirements, some exempting and some explicitly including guardians and/or relatives from registration regulation. The report concluded that in practice there is no significant drawback to either approach.

The question of guardian exemptions will certainly arise should stricter intermediary requirements be introduced, but it must be noted that relatives frequently lack necessary knowledge and experience to provide adequate advice. The report thus concluded that future exemptions should be "construed restrictively".

4. Banning Remuneration

Regardless of who the intermediary represents, RWWI 2015 contains a ban on intermediaries receiving remuneration in a transaction involving a minor player. There are severe workability issues with this approach, as an agreement could be made for remuneration after the player turns 18 for previous work. Also, it is impractical to expect intermediaries to work for free. The report argues that a ban "(i) deprives the players of qualified counsel, (ii) increases their reliance on non-transparent side-agreements and/or (iii) the use of non-registered intermediaries". The conclusion was that strict regulation rather than a ban would be preferable.

5. Limits on the Representation Contract Period

The primary economic motivation for an intermediary to give unpaid services is the prospect of subsequent remunerated work. Consequently, long-term representation contracts stretching beyond a player's 18th birthday are the desire for intermediaries.  There is no limit on contract period in RWWI 2015; nonetheless around half of the FAs do restrict contracts for all players to 2 or 3 years. FAs such as Denmark and Scotland provide greater flexibility to minors for terminating representation contracts. The report concludes that the reasons for providing a more flexible approach in relation to a minor's ability to terminate a representation contract are compelling.

6. Special Qualifications for Representing Minors

Minors are better protected from making ill-informed decisions when there are measures in place that ensure a minimum quality of services offered by any intermediary. Some FAs have gone as far as to implement special requirements for intermediaries to satisfy in order to work with minors, grouped as follows:

Checking personal suitability: this includes an enhanced background check to determine someone's suitability for working with minors. In Croatia intermediaries have to go as far as gaining court approval prior to working with minors.

Special training for intermediaries: this can include repeat participation in an "enhanced training program" to certify the intermediary is qualified to work with minors, as in Denmark.

The report found that there is "near general consensus that the regulatory and institutional framework does not adequately ensure that intermediaries are sufficiently professional and knowledgeable" – a clear call for qualification requirements. Nevertheless, the importance of access to intermediaries for minors, as discussed earlier, must be considered. Any future regulation will need to balance this accordingly.


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