Plenty has been written over recent months (not least by myself) with regards to the new FIFA Football Agent Regulations (FFAR) and the subsequent dispute between FIFA and various agents and agent groups from around the world.
Yet, with all the discontent, arguing, bickering, threats of legal action and at times a seemingly ‘slanderous’ jibe thrown in; one particular group of people seem to have been largely forgotten in the dispute.
The group to which I refer are the ‘Football Intermediaries‘ (registered post 2015), who in my opinion, potentially have a lot to lose (comparatively) and arguably the most work to do in protecting their status and livelihoods, when the new FFAR come fully into force.
For those reading this who aren’t aware of ‘Football Intermediaries’, they are in all but name ‘Football Agents’, despite what some may say, or claim (but more on that later).
Following the ‘abandoning’ of the old player/football agent regulations (including the player agent license) by FIFA as of the 1st April 2015, all licensed football agents registered before that time were reclassified as ‘football intermediaries’ under FIFA’s 2015 ‘Regulations on Working with Intermediaries’ (RWWI). Although, many maintained that they were still ‘agents’, and this was reinforced by many of those in the media and in the ‘football world’, who still referred to agents for some time to come.
In addition to this reclassification of existing agents as ‘intermediaries‘, it also meant that any of those newly registering to the role also became the same ‘Football Intermediaries’ under the RWWI. This wasn’t a choice of the agents/intermediaries whether new or old, and in fact many agents (and agent groups) strongly opposed the new RWWI regulations and warned that they would be inadequate.
Whilst some saw this as the ‘deregulation’ of the football agent industry (in fact some still do – which is a bug-bear of mine), there is no doubt that in the majority of jurisdictions around the world as well as within the RWWI, this was a degradation of the regulations and the licensing procedure.
Intermediaries no longer had to sit an exam under FIFA regulations (RWWI) as they did prior to 2015, and there was a lot of concern about the ‘test of good character‘ before granting someone ‘Intermediary’ status. In addition to this, there were clear examples of those who had operated as ‘unlicensed agents’ prior to 2015 who were now registering as intermediaries with no questions asked, which led to further resentment amongst a lot of the former ‘Player Agents’ (now referred to by FIFA as ‘Legacy Agents‘).
** NOTE : for the purpose of this article I will refer to player-agents registered before 2015 as ‘Legacy-Agents’ (as per FIFA reference in the FFAR), and those registered post-2015 as ‘Intermediaries’ and/or ‘New-Agents’
There is no doubt in my mind that many in the football world have become accustomed to ‘looking down their noses’ on the post-2015 generation of ‘Intermediaries’, whether it be ‘Legacy-Agents‘, managers, players, club officials etc ……….. but is that fair or justified?
In my opinion, in many cases such a judgement is totally unwarranted and unfair. Since 2015 I have had to ‘correct’ many people in football (not just ‘Legacy-Agents‘) who unjustifiably categorise and judge an Intermediary, just because they were registered after 2015.
Over the years, I have met (what I consider to be) good ‘Legacy-Agents‘ and bad ‘Legacy-Agents‘, likewise I have met good Intermediaries and bad Intermediaries. Yet, that judgement in itself is somewhat of a subjective one; after all, what makes a good football agent?
Is it who they represent, how many players they represent, their professionalism, their values, their knowledge, their bank balance, what car they drive, or how often they are seen (or heard of) on Sky Sports or mentioned in the sports pages of the newspaper.
My intolerance for such an unfair presumption and often obscene air of condescension demonstrated by some towards ‘Intermediaries’ isn’t helped by the fact that some of the worst exhibitors of those attitudes have tried to garner support from Intermediaries somewhat disingenuously to support their own objections and fights with FIFA (and subsequently against the FFAR).
The same people who have ‘looked down their noses’ at Intermediaries for some time, are now the ones trying to garner support from the same Intermediaries en-masse. Ultimately, it is fair to say that in some such cases the primary concern is not for the well-being of the Intermediaries, but solely a reason for gaining leverage in terms of ‘credibility’ and being perceived as a ‘representative’ of the Intermediaries; when the truth is, the Intermediaries will fall far down the priority list when ‘push comes to shove’, and if they are lucky, get the ‘crumbs from the table’.
I think it fair to say that most Intermediaries didn’t ask for the regulations to be changed, they didn’t ask not to sit an exam, and didn’t ask for a softening on the ‘tests of character’ that would potentially have stopped them becoming licensed agents under the old regulations (pre 2015).
In fact, in the period leading up to 2015 I fielded quite a lot enquiries from prospective intermediaries regarding RWWI, both as a licensed agent and probably more decisively as I was the incumbent General Secretary of the AFA (Association of Football Agents) at the time.
I certainly recall there was a huge air of uncertainty from this group at the time, as to whether they should apply to be licensed agents and thus sit the exam, or whether they should wait until April 2015, when they could register as Intermediaries through an easier process.
This wasn’t helped by the fact that much of the advice they were getting from the likes of national associations was in some cases misleading, unconcerned, laissez-faire or seemingly incorrect. Even to the point where some were advised that there was no point in sitting the exam, and to wait until April (missing the point that this would mean they may be conducting unlicensed activity in the intervening period).
So, with the that in mind, and the problems of the unfair perception that Intermediaries have experienced, we now have to consider that this same group has potentially been ‘dealt the poorest of hands’ with the introduction of the new FFAR.
As I stated earlier, just because a ‘Legacy-Agent‘ was registered pre 2015 doesn’t mean they are either a good or bad agent, likewise for those Intermediaries registered post-2015. However, the latter will now have to take an exam assessing their knowledge, and undergo arguably tougher ‘good character’ checks in order to obtain a license from FIFA under the new FFAR (as well as also comply with any applicable national regulations), so therein lies the key challenges for new-agents (Intermediaries).
As such, before the FFAR comes fully into force it is envisaged that new-agents will have 2 possible opportunities to sit the exam (April 2023, September 2023; albeit the at the time of writing this, the deadline to apply for the former has already passed).
It is also worth acknowledging that candidates will have to pay a fee to sit the exam, but this fee is not set by FIFA, but by the national (member) football associations where the candidate is to sit the exam. Whilst FIFA has stated that this cost must be ‘reasonable’ in relation to the costs for hosting the exam, there is still a lot of uncertainty as to the exam fees, and it is almost guaranteed the costs won’t be uniform between the different football associations.
At the time of writing, I have heard fees mooted of $300usd up to $750usd to sit the exam, and in the end, some may charge more and some less (for whatever reason). Yet, even though the application deadline has passed for the first exam, many national (member) football associations have yet to announce what their exam fee will be for candidates, not only leaving candidates (which I understand to be in the thousands) unsure of where they will be able to sit the exam, but also if they can afford to do so.
It may seem quite dramatic to say livelihoods are at stake, but that is the case. Not only in reference to the FFAR as a whole for both ‘Legacy-Agents‘ and ‘New-Agents‘ alike (albeit in different ways), but probably more so for those Intermediaries wishing to register now as ‘New-Agents‘.
What if they don’t pass the exam (e.g. their laptop fails, they are ill on the day), or for some strange peculiarity their application is rejected by FIFA or a member association? Therefore, what happens to the work, business, client-roster, contacts they have developed in the 8 years since the RWWI was introduced? Is that hard work, effort, toil (possibly over many years) all to be written off over something that was not of their doing or their choosing?
There are of course alternative paths to take in averting this possibility, whether it be signing over clients to a parent agency then working for that agency in a consultant capacity or even dare I say going the route of becoming an unlicensed agent.
A big issue for me in this, is that Legacy-Agents and Intermediaries who haven’t necessarily done things ‘properly’ or professionally since 2015 are the ones who seem to have an advantage.
In fact, if they were to go down the route of becoming ‘unlicensed agents’ once the FFAR is fully in force, it is they who fall outside of FIFAs regulations (albeit their clients are at risk of sanctions). And should they have chosen not to lodge their client representation agreements correctly with the relevant member association, and/or not followed a prescribed representation agreement format, then it is quite feasible that some of their client contracts are still seen as legally binding agreements/contracts.
Whereas those Intermediaries and Legacy-Agents who lodged their agreements correctly and/or in the prescribed format may well find that as of 1st October 2023 those agreements/contracts become null and void should they not obtain licensed ‘Football Agent’ status under the new FFAR.
It is no secret that I don’t agree with some key elements of the FFAR and have been very critical of some. Yet I do think there is a lot of good elements in these new regulations; but that is a discussion for another day and other articles.
However, I must give credit where credit is due on the matter of the support that seemingly has been given by FIFAs Agent Team towards Intermediaries who will have to sit the exam and thus register as new-agents under the FFAR.
This support isn’t just in relation to the exam and the licensing procedure, but I am well aware of an effort to answer intermediary/agent enquiries in a timely manner, which was largely unheard of in both the years prior to, and after, 2015.
Yet, more importantly an effort has seemingly been made to see some of the more practical problems and confusion that Intermediaries may experience with existing client agreements/contracts they have; whether or not these agreements were concluded prior to December 2022 (when FFAR was approved), prior to January 2023 (when FFAR was formally announced) or in the intervening period up until October 2023 (when FFAR is supposed to come into force fully).
I know both from my own observations and experience over recent months (since FFAR was approved by FIFA in December 2022), as well as what I am hearing form others; that there is a lot of confusion and concern amongst ‘new-agents’ who have been Intermediaries for some years and worked hard to establish themselves since 2015.
And, whilst I have no doubt that should they be professional and put in the adequate amount of preparation for the exam, that most will pass the exam and become licensed football agents (under the FFAR) …… but I would recommend it is always worth having a backup plan.
It will be tough, but good luck.