Issues such as the regulation of player agents, clenbuterol doping and compensation for players injured on international duty need urgent resolution, heard delegates at Player Issues: Regulations & Contracts 2010, a World Sports Law Report conference hosted by Hammonds LLP on 14 October.
The quality of speakers and information available was praised by delegates. “There are many journals and conferences around that cover sports law, however you will struggle to find one that goes into the level of detail analysed by World Sports Law Report”, said Omar Yabroudi, Crystal Palace FC. “This event was perfect for my needs.”
Paolo Lombardi highlighted that FIFA’s decision to regulate intermediaries used during player transfers constituted – contrary to media reports – a strengthening of regulations governing use of player agents, as only 30% of international transfers utilise licensed FIFA Agents under the present regime. “If FIFA is prepared to tear down the barriers to entry for player agents, then that indicates that it wants to focus attention on every single transaction instead”, said Lombardi, CEO of sports advisory business SportsTeam and former Head of Disciplinary & Governance at FIFA. “Is FIFA giving up on agents? Perhaps. Is it giving up on protecting football? No. Will this have a positive effect? Only time will tell.”
Roberto Branco Martins, General Manager of the European Association of Football Agents (EAFA), disputed this view, arguing the dangers of an unregulated “wild west” environment. He also pointed out that whilst it is laudable that FIFA prohibit fees for work with minors, they do not limit the length of a player representation contract, meaning that an agent can sign a ten year contract with a young player. He argued that FIFA should engage the EAFA in amending the regulations.
There was also controversy over regulations which state that 3% of a transfer fee may be paid to an agent. “If the intention is to create transparency, then the regulations must also be realistic”, said Martins. “Currently agent commission falls between 5% and 10% of the transfer fee. There are also issues to be resolved with agents retaining the economic rights to players in some countries.”
In a two-part doping session, Mike Morgan of Hammonds LLP pointed out the dangers of athletes accidentally ingesting clenbuterol – a banned substance illicitly used in segments of the farming industry to increase the growth rate of livestock and keep meat lean. Clenbuterol remans present in contaminated meat and can therefore result in a positive test for a Prohibited Substance under the World Anti-Doping Code. Three times Tour de France winner Alberto Contador recently tested positive for clenbuterol, but argues he ingested it through contaminated meat. Morgan also revealed to delegates that the US Olympic Committee had shipped 11,000kg of meat to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics because of concerns over Chinese meat and, amongst other things, the potential risk it posed to athletes subject to doping control tests. He contemplated whether anti-doping authorities might be able to develop an analytical test to distinguish clenbuterol administered directly from clenbuterol ingested inadvertently following the consumption of contaminated meat.
Speaking on compensation for player injuries, Peter Limbert of Hammonds LLP said that it is “only a matter of time” before clubs challenge the lack of compensation available for injuries to players whilst on international duty. He pointed out that Bayern Munich is considering legal action after Captain Mark van Bommel returned injured from international duty and that Arsenal are also keen to pursue compensation for an injury to Robin van Persie.
Compensation for breach of contract was also a hot topic. Adam Lewis QC, of Blackstone Chambers, suggested that Article 17 of FIFA’s Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players could be challenged as a breach of competition law. “Under FIFA rules, it is acceptable to have system to compensate actual loss for breach of contract without just cause [Article 17 of FIFA's 'Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players], as long as it tallies with national law”, he said. “Even now, CAS arbitrators would arrive at different conclusions as to what constitutes ‘actual loss’ due to different national regulations on how to calculate this. There is therefore an argument that an award under Article 17 that is deemed to go beyond actual loss could be challenged as a possible breach of competition law.”
David Douglas, Chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) Disciplinary Committee, also cleared up the confusion over the release of information to the respondents connected to its allegations that John Higgins had agreed to throw frames. “This was a purely practical consideration by the News of the World in order to keep control of the information while the case was ongoing”, said Douglas, a former investigating officer for the Metropolitan Police and hostage negotiator. Douglas provided delegates with a fascinating insider's account of the integrity tribunal, highly praising Sports Resolutions UK and tribunal chair, Ian Mill QC, who resolved the issue of disclosure of information that allowed the News of the World to hand over its information to the lawyers representing John Higgins and Pat Mooney.
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