When I passed my FIFA (and FA) agent’s exam back in the early 2000’s, I was proud to say that I was a ‘Licensed Players Agent’ and as such wore the badge of being licensed/authorised by the FA (and ‘technically’ FIFA) as a form of credibility, a kitemark, if not even an honour.
Whilst my opinions of the two organisations may well have waned quite a lot since that time (for reasons I won’t go into now), I still believe that football agents should be licensed. And with that, regulations implemented and enforced effectively by the likes of FIFA and the national associations (such as The FA in England) both nationally and internationally.
Whilst I think I am safe in saying that many of my fellow agents will share a similar (if not the same) opinion to myself that football agents should be licensed and regulated fairly and effectively, there are some who are adamant that football agents should not be licensed and regulated by the football authorities, let alone FIFA. The reasoning for this is because of any one of a number of reasons, whether they are deemed by some to be valid or somewhat frivolous, if not seemingly childish.
As I have touched upon (if not explicitly stated) before; in my opinion, there are two key factors in the failure to effectively regulate the football agent industry.
The first being the failure of the regulations to evolve at the same rate as the industry itself, which is somewhat understandable due to the rapid growth of the football agent industry and the complexities associated with it.
Whilst the second key factor I believe to be the matter of largely ineffective enforcement, and the seeming inability and indisposed nature of the football authorities to tackle the issue of football agent regulations and licensing, whether it be domestically or internationally.
However, I don’t believe either of these factors is a good enough reason for football agents to object to regulation and licensing. Whilst some may then argue that the football authorities have effectively failed in regulating football agents for some time, and this is a reason to pass that responsibility elsewhere or not regulate or license the industry whatsoever (something the same people argued against with FIFA in the run-up to 2015). I don’t believe this to be the case, especially when such parties are offering no reasoned or joined-up thinking in their alternatives.
For many years I have heard the argument from some key people in the football agent industry presenting the case for football agents regulating themselves, and whilst I believe the sentiment of some here is genuine (albeit a little misguided), for others I believe their case is totally unfounded; if not deluded and shrouded in self-interest.
As such, it remains my belief (as has been the case for many years), that football agents should not (note, I don’t say ‘could not’) regulate themselves, and even if it was a possibility through the appointment of an independent body, I still believe even then that the nuanced nature of the industry would make this unfeasible.
It is my belief that under the current circumstances, the regulation of football agents falls jointly to the football authorities (e.g. FIFA, the (con)federations and the National/Member Associations) AND one or more recognised agent representative associations, along with contributions of other key stakeholder groups directly involved in football agent activity (e.g. clubs, players, coaches).
On the advent of FIFA introducing the new FIFA Football Agent Regulations (FFAR) in January 2023 (approved in December 2022), part of the new regulations was the establishment of a FIFA Agent Working Group (AWG).
Article 25 of the FFAR 2022/23 :
(1) FIFA will establish a Football Agent Working Group composed of representatives of professional football stakeholders and agent organisations.
(2) The Football Agent Working Group will act as a permanent consultative body in relation to any Football Agent-related matters.
Whilst on the ‘face of it’ this seems to be a positive move, in supposedly giving agents a representative voice on regulatory matters. When examined more closely and given further consideration, it sadly for me seems to be merely a ‘token gesture’ on the basis that the AWG :
I have written before (FIFA’s Agent Working Group – Right Thing, Right Place, Wrong Time?) that I believe that the potential of the AWG is something to be welcomed, after all ‘something is better than nothing’ (supposedly).
However, I don’t believe the AWG is enough to persuade many agents that they either have a legitimate representative ‘voice’, are being listened to, or even are recognised as ‘stakeholders’ by FIFA and the football authorities.
In fact, the establishment of anything like the AWG after the approval of the FFAR, if anything, gave weight to the argument that FIFA did not adequately consult with agents/intermediaries over the FFAR and further the argument of some that FIFA should not regulate football agents.
It goes without saying that the football industry has more than its fair share of egos and regular demonstrations of pomposity amongst the various participants, and this by no means excludes those in the football agent industry or those in football governance (e.g. FIFA). The motivators to gain power, wealth, influence, to be the best, the most successful, or just to ‘win’, often dictate the actions and approaches of many, whilst also blurring their focus as to where their true duty of care and professional focus should be.
The concept of ‘losing face’ or any form of credibility in the football industry (especially amongst agents and the football authorities) is something that is definitely not taken lightly, especially by those more well-known names and faces.
Any form of scrutiny, ridicule or denting of their profile and ego is totally unacceptable to some; whether it be public and/or professionally in private; and when this does happen, quite often the ‘die is cast’ and a vendetta set for some form of ‘retribution’. Whilst I cannot say this is the case for all of those who object to the right of FIFA to regulate football agents, I do believe that some do use this reasoning in one form or another to reject FIFAs authority on football agent regulations.
Most notable is the case of one high profile agent/agency whereby FIFA charged them over extensive alleged breaches of the regulations, which were subsequently dropped by and large. Hence, from that point on I do believe the agent/agency in question thus felt victimised by FIFA and was very much at the ‘head of the charge’ against FIFAs authority to regulate football agents and the introduction of the new FFAR.
Added to this, there is a habit for many in the industry to somewhat lazily accept stereotypes and exhibit bias toward others (which I must admit I am guilty of at times). Whether it be a football official inadvertently insinuating that some ‘agents are criminals’, framing a presentation as the “terrible subject of agents”, agents themselves viewing ‘FIFA as corrupt’ (given the events of 2015-2016) or that FIFA have no understanding of the agents industry; none are an accurate representation of the other party and just exacerbate resentment and criticism between them.
This mindset of vendettas and stereotypes along with the often blinkered, if not ignorant approach by both sides in the dispute over football agent regulations in my opinion helps no one. And as my late nan used to say ‘you just want to bang their heads together’ or alternatively ‘knock a hole in their heads and post a letter’ (to get the message through), you cannot help but think she would be right with these, in this situation.
The simple fact is that there seems little empathy in these disputes and disagreements. However balanced or reasoned an idea may seem to be, the other party may well listen but not necessarily hear or understand the viewpoint or situation of the other (due to their own bias, preconceived ideas, or sole objectives and motivations), THUS little or no positive progress is made (or has been made).
This simple fact is that at the time of writing (15th May 2023), the ‘war’ is well underway between the Football Agents and FIFA (and in some cases the national Football Associations) over the new FIFA Football Agent Regulations (FFAR). It is safe to say that the skirmishes are over and there are now battles in various courts and jurisdictions around the world, and thus far there have been some victories for FIFA. But even with that in mind, the most telling cases are yet to come and arguably the ‘biggest and heaviest agency hitters’ are yet to ‘step up to the plate’ against FIFA.
Yet this was the case in 2015 with FIFAs Regulations on Working With Intermediaries (RWWI), so has the agent industry and the football authorities learned anything or evolved (in terms of regulations) in that time?
Whilst some agent groups are quite forgiving on the matter of FIFA setting the regulations and authorising the licensing of football agents, others are as intransigent as some of their counterparts in football governance, in being blinkered to full and meaningful agent consultations and dialogue. This situation has now developed to a point where an increasing number of agents and agent groups now question the authority (and ability) of FIFA to regulate the football agent industry or license football agents in a fair, reasoned and proportionate manner.
I can accept the reasoning for much of the criticism of many in rejecting FIFA agent regulations (most notably the FFAR of 2022/23) based on past/present failings and failed consultation with agents. I cannot go as far as to categorically and justifiably reject the position of FIFA to set out a framework for the regulation and licensing of Football Agents (especially not for the international aspects of the industry).
Whether my opinion as to whether FIFA at times present themselves as ‘the law’ when it comes to all things football, is right or wrong, it is clear that national legislation will in most cases take precedence over FIFA regulations on matters of a national dimension (as the French and Italian authorities have proven).
The matter of whether effective Football Agent Regulations and Licensing is required is a ‘no brainer’ for me, with a resounding yes. Whether FIFA should be setting the grounds for Football Agent Regulations and regulating the industry, is a more nuanced question.
Based on how regulation has been undertaken in the past (and how agents have been consulted over regulation), definitely leaves question-marks over FIFAs ability to regulate firmly but fairly, and thus gives some credence to the agents who object so vehemently.
However, whilst these agents object it also seems that they present few (if any) plausible alternatives to FIFA setting out a framework for football agent regulations with FIFA as arguably the only world governing body for association football.