Following on from Joel Leigh and Jamie Rhodes' overview of Edge Hill University's project "Promoting and Supporting Good Governance in the European Football Agents Industry", a closer look is taken into the Interim Report on licensing and qualification of football agents.
The FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries 2015 (RWWI) abandoned the previous examination and licensing procedure for football agents and replaced it with a registration procedure, in effect making it much easier to become a football agent. This procedure has its positives as well as its shortcomings. Nonetheless, Joel and Jamie highlight an important conclusion of Edge Hill University, noting "a detailed licensing regime, setting out the scope of an agent's role, would offer significant clarification and limit unscrupulous agents' ability to operate at the edges of the industry". Consequently, the individual recommendations of the Interim Report regarding licensing and qualification are explored below.
International Federation Model
The Interim Report recommends the implementation of the International Federation model for licensing and qualification. Under this, the competence for regulating the licensing and qualification conditions would be retained by FIFA, but the National Federations (NFs) would be responsible for implementing any such regulations in their domestic settings. It is stated that this "will facilitate the development of a uniform approach and central record keeping". In practice, agents would receive a FIFA license issued by the relevant NF.
Rather than FIFA, the Interim Report considered whether Continental Federations (such as UEFA) or FIFPro would be better placed as the administering body of football agent licenses. However, as FIFPro themselves provides agent services, there would be a risk of conflict of interest. Further, although it was found that Continental Federations could be consulted in terms of examination content, practical and constitutional reasons mean a licensing system would be better administered at FIFA and NF level.
For standards of professionalism to be improved in the football agent industry, the Interim Report recommends agents fulfil the following criteria in order to be awarded a license:
- The applicant is of good character and free from conflicts of interest. Formal verification as well as self-declaration should be used to determine this;
- The applicant should demonstrate the necessary skills to operate as an agent through an examination;
- The applicant has professional liability insurance; and
- The applicant agrees to be bound by a code of conduct.
It is further recommended that an online portal be established for the uploading of relevant documentation. This would help achieve clarity in determining whether an individual has satisfied the above criteria.
An objective approach is suggested – the Interim Report states applicants should have to undertake a written exam which should test their "knowledge and understanding of all applicable FIFA statutes, regulations, codes and accompanying papers and statements that are relevant to the business of an agent". A further section of the exam could also include the testing of equivalent confederation (e.g. UEFA) regulations.
However, the Interim Report questions whether a section relating to NFs should be added. It was found that due to "varying practice and cultures" at NF level, centralisation would not be achieved. Instead, this knowledge could be acquired by on-going education required for the retention of the agent license.
Much like lawyers, it is recommended that agents satisfy on-going permanent education requirements to retain their license. Any model that is chosen to achieve this should consider:
- Identifying learning needs: this can be established by relevant football bodies or the agents themselves. Irrespective of the approach, key skills such as client care, business skills, people skills and legal and regulatory compliance are seen as pertinent to the activity of an agent by the Interim Report.
- Planning and addressing the identified needs: agents must identify providers of their educational needs, such as conferences and workshops. The Interim Report recommends a minimum number of training hours could be required by FIFA, or an alternative assessment of training. Additionally, it is important for FIFA to consider which providers are appropriate and the type of monitoring system to be put in place to ensure quality assurance. NFs may be best placed for this, but "FIFA should guard against establishing a system whereby the national association has the potential to act in both a regulatory and commercial context". In light of Wouters and OTOC, FIFA must also ensure national measures are adequate and do not restrict access to the provider market.
- Recording and evaluation: one approach suggested is that agents satisfy recording requirements via uploading details onto an online portal. An important advantage of this method is that the uploaded information could be viewable by parties that engage agents as well as monitoring authorities. An alternative approach would be for the agent to retain evidence of training which can be audited. The Interim Report recommends that any record of training should be coupled with personal reflection by the agent, helping feed into the "identifying learning needs" point.
The Interim Report recommends:
- To help improve professionalism, no individuals should be exempt from licensing requirements (family members and lawyers have previously been afforded this exemption).
- Applicants should not hold positions within football bodies to avoid conflicts of interest.
- Previously licensed agents could be exempt from new examination but not the continuing competence requirements.
- Intermittent examination could be considered or a license could be issued for an indefinite period, subject to compliance with continuing competence requirements.
- Disciplinary bodies should have the sanctioning power to force re-examination and/or compulsory engagement with continuing competence requirements.
- The consequence of a failure to satisfy continuing competence requirements should be the withdrawal of the license and re-examination.
- It is vital that effective enforcement mechanisms are in place.