Editor’s Note: Please welcome our newest writer, Marquette Law 3L James Wold. James, who will be covering International Sports for the SLS Blog, is a Sports Law Certificate Candidate & an SLS member and previously served as an assistant sports editor with the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen.
FIFA’s Appeals Committee denied the appeals put forth by Spanish clubs Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid last Thursday, handing transfer bans to each club. Going forward, it will be interesting to see how each club reacts to the news, especially when the summer transfer window starts in June 2017.
These bans result from the respective clubs’ violations of regulations, including articles 5, 9, 19, 19bis as well as Annexes 2 and 3 of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (2016). The violations are for the signing of teenage players from 2005-14, and include several sons of current Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane. Under article 19, international transfers are normally only permitted if the player is over the age of 18, unless an outlined exception applies in paragraphs 2-4.
Article 19 — Protection of minors
1. International transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18.
2. The following three exceptions to this rule apply:
a) The player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located for reasons not linked to football.
b) 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[l] 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.
c) 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. In such cases, the player must continue to live at home and the two associations concerned must give their explicit consent.
3. The conditions of this article shall also apply to any player who has never previously been registered with a club, is not a national of the country in which he wishes to be registered for the first time and has not lived continuously for at least the last five years in said country.
Article 19bis — Registration and reporting of minors at academies
1. Clubs that operate an academy with legal, financial or de facto links to the club are obliged to report all minors who attend the academy to the association upon whose territory the academy operates.
2. Each association is obliged to ensure that all academies without legal, financial or de facto links to a club:
a) run a club that participates in the relevant national championships; all players shall be reported to the association upon whose territory the academy operates, or registered with the club itself; or
b) report all minors who attend the academy for the purpose of training to the association upon whose territory the academy operates.
Article 5 — Registration
Article 5 states that players “must be registered at an association to play for a club either as a professional or an amateur . . . [and] only registered players are eligible to play organized football.”
Article 9 — International Transfer Certificate
Article 9 acknowledges that players registered at one association may only be registered at another association once the original team receives an ITC. Paragraph 3 adds that the new association must inform the previous clubs that trained and educated a player between ages 12-23 in writing of the player’s designation as a professional after receiving an ITC.
Annexes 2 & 3
Annexe 2 puts forth the procedure governing application for first registration and international transfer of minors, essentially flushing out the process behind applying for a minor’s registration. Meanwhile, Annexe 3 discusses the Transfer Matching System (TMS), whereas Article 4 delineates the obligations a club has in using the TMS.
How Will This Affect Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid?
Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid will serve their respective bans over the next two transfer windows. That is, they cannot bring in any new players to the club as a whole until the winter transfer window of 2017-18. However, they are allowed to sell players and the decision does not affect other aspects of the club. Atlético Madrid was also fined 900,000 Swiss francs (~$925,973) while Real Madrid was hit with a 360,000 Swiss franc penalty (~$370,389). The clubs, however, are planning to appeal the decisions to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
This is the third Spanish club to receive a two-window transfer ban. In 2015, rivals FC Barcelona were also hit with a two-window transfer ban for improper registration of minors. FC Barcelona appealed its decision to CAS, which the CAS panel denied. Barcelona’s appeal rested on the notion of proportionality and that this punishment was not proportional to the actual regulation violated.
The CAS panel noted in paragraph 9.34 that protecting minors was the priority of FIFA and that while Barcelona’s “La Masia” academy may be one of the better youth academies, CAS only questioned “the methods used to bring youth there” and that the law must be applied in a non-discriminatory way. The Panel also noted that the sanction was a mid-level one and that a lighter sanction would not have had the necessary deterrence factor.
However, the question remains if these transfer bans truly produce enough of a deterrent for clubs. Barcelona endured its transfer ban, yet it won the Champions League in May 2015 over Juventus, as well as La Liga, Copa del Rey (King’s Cup), the UEFA SuperCup and the FIFA Club World Cup in 2015-16. It also signed two players in the summer window with both players—Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan—waiting until January before seeing action on the pitch.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid are the reigning European champions, having defeated Atlético in the final for the second time in three years. It’s not quite the same team-building philosophy as the Galácticos era of Real Madrid in the early 2000s when it tried to sign every good player for a high price, but Real Madrid are not hurting when it comes to squad depth. Barring injury to the BBC line (Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo), Los Blancos will probably weather the transfer bans fairly well.
The same may not necessarily be said for Atlético Madrid. Although Atlético is an imposing side with one of the top strikers (Antoine Griezmann) and one of the best coaches (Diego Simeone), Atlético’s margin of error is slightly smaller. It is unlikely to affect them this year as business has been done already. But it’s worth watching to see if smaller clubs (and that is a relative statement) are affected more by the two-window ban than the super clubs (FC Barcelona, Real Madrid).
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