Thursday, 7 March 2013

FC Barcelona and the protection of minors - Article 19 of FIFA Regs

It has been recently reported that FC Barcelona have been ordered by FIFA not to select six of their youth team players aftereportr the club allegedly breached FIFA regulations relating to the protection of minors. The players in question, who are between the ages of 14 and 15, are believed to be Seung Woo Lee, Paik Seung-Ho and Jang Gyeolhee from Korea, Theo Chendri from France, Bobby Adekanye from Nigeria and Patrice Sousia from Cameroon.
Given inflated transfer fees and increased competition in the transfer market, many football clubs across Europe have sought to acquire young players from continents across the globe including Africa, Asia and South America. Unfortunately, the prospect of securing lucrative contracts with European clubs has led to greed and many instances of young children being exploited by unscrupulous agents who take young children from their families to Europe with the promise of a trial with a European club. However, if the trial falls through or is unsuccessful, many young players are simply left abandoned by the agent.  
Protection of minors is a major concern for FIFA and various measures have been implemented by FIFA to combat this problem and regulate the transfer of minors. Article 19 Paragraph 1 of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players prohibits the international transfers of players under the age of 18 including players who have never previously been registered with a club (Article 19 Paragraph 3). However, the following three exceptions to this rule apply (Article 19 Paragraph 2):
  1. The player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located for reasons not linked to football;
  2. The transfer takes place within the territory of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) and the player is aged between 16 and 18. In this case, the new club must fulfil the following minimum obligations: i. It shall provide the player with an adequate football education and/or training in line with the highest national standards. ii. It shall guarantee the player an academic and/or school and/or vocational education and/or training, in addition to his football education and/or training, which will allow the player to pursue a career other than football should he cease playing professional football. iii. It shall make all necessary arrangements to ensure that the player is looked after in the best possible way (optimum living standards with a host family or in club accommodation, appointment of a mentor at the club, etc.). iv. It shall, on registration of such a player, provide the relevant association with proof that it is complying with the aforementioned obligations;
  3. The player lives no further than 50km from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered in the neighbouring association is also within 50km of that border. The maximum distance between the player’s domicile and the club’s headquarters shall be 100km.
Since 1 October 2009, every international transfer and first registration of a minor is subject to the approval of a sub-committee appointed by FIFA’s Players’ Status Committee who monitors compliance with FIFA Regulations including Article 19. The national association who wishes to register a minor player is required to submit an application to the sub-committee for approval and sanctions may be imposed on any association who fails to submit an application to the sub-committee or who issues a transfer certificate without the sub-committee’s approval. A club who reaches an agreement for the transfer of a minor without the approval of the sub-committee also commits an offence (Article 19 Paragraph 4). 
FIFA’s computer based Transfer Matching System (TMS) manages this process  by requiring the clubs involved in the transfer of a player to enter identical information regarding the transfer including details of the player, clubs and payments. Documents must also be submitted such as proof of residence for both the player and player’s parents (if applicable) and documentation of the academic education and football training provided to the player. Once the required information and documentation is uploaded into the TMS, the respective associations are required to verify all the documentation and the sub-committee will then review the application. FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, explains the rationale behind TMS:
“Thanks to TMS, football’s authorities have more details available on each and every transfer… it increases the transparency of individual transactions and helps us to tackle issues such as the fight against money laundering and the protection of minors in transfers.”
FIFA clearly think that these measures are robust enough to offer sufficient protection to minors with FIFA’s general manger of TMS, Mark Goddard, proudly proclaiming that “there is now a rigorous system in place to monitor the movement of minors that are declared in TMS by associations.”
If FC Barcelona have violated Article 19, they are not the only club to have done so.  
The leading case involving Article 19 involved Paraguayan player Carlos Javier Acuña Caballero. In 2005, Caballero signed a contract with Spanish club Cádiz at the age of 16 from Club Olympia de Paraguay. In order for the player to be validly registered, the Spanish Football Association asked the Paraguayan Football Association to issue an International Transfer Certificate (See Article 9 of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players). However, the Paraguayan Football Association refused to issue an International Transfer Certificate due to non-compliance with Article 19 and so the transfer could not be completed. The Spanish Football Association, at Cadiz’s request, subsequently appealed to FIFA’s Players’ Status Committee relying upon the exception laid down in Article 19 Paragraph 2(a). Interestingly, Caballero’s mother signed an employment contract with a restaurant in Spain a week after the player’s contract with Cadiz was agreed. The family were apparently in a very difficult financial situation and so intended to move to Spain “for reasons not linked to football.” The Players’ Status Committee were not satisfied with this account and effectively concluded that the mother had only moved to Spain as a result of her son’s transfer to Cadiz, thus the exception under Article 19 Paragraph 2(a) did not apply.
Following FIFA’s refusal to register Caballero, Cádiz filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration of Sport (“CAS”). After considering the evidence, CAS followed the decision of FIFA’s Players’ Status Committee and concluded that the mother’s decision to move to Spain was directly linked to the contract Caballero signed with Cadiz. CAS also held that Article 19 was valid as it was proportionate and pursued a legitimate objective. The appeal was, therefore, dismissed and it became the first transfer of a minor rejected under Article 19. (See Càdiz C.F. & Caballero v/FIFA & Asociación Paraguaya de Fútbol CAS 2005/A/955 & CAS 2005/A/956)
The case of Caballero and Cadiz was followed by the case involving FC Midtjylland and the Danish Football Association in 2007. 
FC Midtjylland established a relationship with Nigerian club, FC Ebedei, whereby FC Midtjylland would acquire the Nigerian club’s hottest prospects. In 2006, FC Midtjylland registered three minor players from the Nigerian club namely, Ikechukwu Jude Nworah and Lanre Adeola Runsewe who were both 16 and Akubar Yabubu Akilu who was 17. The Danish Football Association proceeded to register the players as amateurs. 
FlFPro learnt of the transfers and contacted FIFA alleging that FC Midtjylland had transferred minor Nigerian players contrary to Article 19. FIFA’s Players’ Status Committee investigated these allegations and issued a decision against FC Midtjylland and the Danish Football Association on the basis that Article 19 applies to both amateur and professional players. FC Midtjylland and the Danish Football Association were both issued with strong warnings for infringing Article 19.
The Danish Football Association accepted the verdict but FC Midtjylland appealed the decision to CAS on the grounds that Article 19 did not apply as the players were mainly in Denmark as students as well as basing their appeal on various arguments relating to EU law. CAS rejected all of FC Midtjylland’s arguments and followed the decision of FIFA’s Players’ Status Committee by concluding that Article 19 equally applies to amateur and professional players and that none of the exceptions under Article 19 applied:
“after taking into due consideration all evidence produced and all arguments made, the Panel finds that the Appellant (FC Midtjylland) has breached Article 19 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players and that it was justified to impose a sanction for the registration of the Players. Furthermore, the Panel is of the opinion that the nature and the level of sanction imposed on the Appellant is totally appropriate.” (See Paragraph 8.1 of CAS 2008/A/1485 FC Midtjylland A/S v/ Fédération Internationale de Football Association)
In the case of FC Barcelona, FIFA have simply confirmed that “the matter is still pending '' so full details of the case against FC Barcelona are not known. Presumably, given that the players in question have played in FC Barcelona’s youth team for some time, their registrations were initially approved by FIFA’s Player’s Status Committee via the TMS otherwise Barcelona and the Spanish Football Association are in breach of Article 19 Paragraph 4. It is, therefore, possible that FIFA have obtained further information to make them suspect violation of Article 19 hence the directive to not select the players until they investigate the matter further. 
Barcelona spokesman, Chemi Terres, has said that FIFA's communication has “caught the club by surprise”and it has been reported that they will rely upon the fact the players are given a complete education at the club’s La Masia training facility, thus coming under the exception laid down by Article 19 Paragraph 2(b). However, this exception only applies to players between the ages of 16 and 18 so it does not appear that this exception will apply to the players in question in which case the club will need to rely upon one of the other exceptions under Article 19 Paragraph 2 in order escape sanctions. More details are likely to emerge once FIFA’s Player’s Status Committee investigate the matter further and it will be interesting to see whether FC Barcelona have breached the provisions of Article 19. If so, FC Barcelona and the Spanish Football Association can expect similar sanctions as FC Midtjylland and the Danish Football Association received in 2007.

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