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Following a long campaign by Italian football agents, including the Italian Association of Football Agents (‘IAFA’), the Italian parliament has, on 23 December 2017, enacted a new regulatory scheme for football (and other sports) agents in Italy.
FIFA controversially de-licensed and de-regulated football agents in 2015, scrapping the previous FIFA Agents’ regulations and bringing in new ‘soft touch’ Regulations on Working with Intermediaries (‘FIFA RWI’). National associations were encouraged to follow and many, including the Italian and English FAs, abolished the licensing of football agents and brought in their own versions of the FIFA RWI. This was strongly criticised by many in the football industry who felt that, while the previous licensing system was not perfect, stepping back from regulation was a recipe for disaster – see for example the author’s paper: The new FA Football Intermediaries Regulations and the disputes likely to arise (May 2015).
The IAFA and others in Italy brought a series of legal challenges and embarked upon a campaign to institute a proper regulatory and licensing scheme for football agents. This led to, among other things, the establishment by the Italian National Olympic Committee (the Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano, or ‘CONI’) of a national register of sports agents. The author understands that to be admitted to the register an agent must: pay an annual fee of €250; be an Italian citizen or citizen of another EU state; have no criminal conviction in the previous 5 years; be in possession of a secondary school diploma or equivalent; and pass a qualifying test aimed at ascertaining their suitability to be a sports agent. Agents with previous qualifications issued before de-licensing by FIFA in March 2015 are also admitted to the register.
The amendment to the new Italian Budget Law (205/2017, article 1, paragraph 373) provides that the CONI shall regulate the activity of all sports agents in Italy and their consequential sanctioning regime. Furthermore, and most significantly, it provides that “professional athletes and companies affiliated to a professional sports federation are prohibited from using non-registered members on the grounds that contracts are null and void.” Thus, only those agents registered on the CONI register, who have passed an exam, can conduct agency activity in football, or in any professional sport and, the author understands, that contracts with agents not on the CONI register shall be deemed to be void. No wonder the new scheme has been described in the Italian press as a ‘Revolution’ (see, in Italian: Calciomercato,sStop ai Procuratori 'amatoriali': torna il
registro degli agenti; and ‘Riforma
agenti sportivi, entro il 1 marzo le disposizioni attuative’).
Indeed, not only do all agents have to pass the exam and be licensed, but the same is required of a player’s family members. Whereas in the past a player’s parents, or siblings, for example, could act as his/her agent and be paid without being licensed, now they too shall have to be certified as suitable. In the author’s view, this is a welcome development. Some of the most significant corruption in relation to football transactions arises at the instigation or request of a player’s family members, who also often act as the ‘agent’ on a deal as a cover for another party with whom the fee is split. If agents are to be expected to meet a certain professional standard, then anyone carrying out the same activity by virtue of their familial relationship should be expected to meet that standard, and be regulated in the same way.
The decision of the Italian parliament to regulate sports agents in this way is particularly significant because Italy is responsible for the second highest agents’ commissions in the world. According to the latest FIFA report on Intermediary Commissions (2017), clubs in England spent USD $489.9 million (32% of world spending) on intermediary commissions between 2013 and 2017, and clubs in Italy spent USD $343.8 million (22% of world spending). For Italy to regulate agency activity in this way is bound to have an impact on other European nations: it may cause the EU Commission to consider similar regulations across Europe, and it should be considered carefully by the English FA and, legislators in England such as the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee currently considering the flaws in FA regulation.
A number of interesting legal issues may arise: in English law the idea of making a contract void because it fails to meet certain regulatory conditions is not usual – but is more common in countries with civil law systems. It will be interesting to see how FIFA reacts, if at all, to the idea of the regulation of football agents being taken out of football to the CONI – but this is due to FIFA walking away from the task; and some English Intermediaries shall be interested to know whether they can be admitted to the register after Brexit.
The fact that Italy, the second highest spending country on football agents, has brought in such regulation, coupled with the fact that the English FA (in the highest spending country) has expressed serious reservations about FIFA’s de-regulation and has brought in its own new rules that go beyond FIFA’s minimal level (though go not nearly as far as the Italian regulations) further suggests FIFA’s de-regulation is not fit for purpose in those countries where most agency activity occurs.
The author would like to thank Christian Bosco, the President of the IAFA, for providing some of the information about the new Italian regulation used in this article.
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