A confidential Uefa-commissioned report into the transfer market concluded money-laundering was widespread and “dominant agents” were exploiting a failure to enforce rules banning third-party ownership.
A summary of the 2018 report never made public but seen by the Guardian indicates it made eight recommendations to help rectify systemic issues. None has been adopted by Fifa more two years later, although it is close to introducing one and will vote on others next year.
Among the key findings in the report – compiled by the Centre for Sports Studies (Cies) – was that third-party ownership of players’ economic rights (TPO), banned by Fifa in 2015, “is still a well-established reality”.
“Agents and intermediaries are often at the heart of this kind of arrangement, which in many cases explain the sizeable commissions that they are able to obtain from clubs,” it says. “Dominant agents and intermediaries have a solid control on the careers of a greater number of players, notably through third-party ownership arrangements, which puts them at advantage in the power game existing with clubs.
“Fierce competition between teams within a highly unregulated context with no effective enforcement of the few existing rules (ie TPO ban) creates a climate of suspicion in which clubs are afraid to lose competitiveness by acting in legal and/or ethical ways. The lack of transparency in transfer operations in general, and in the representation market more particularly, puts clubs at disadvantage vis-à-vis agents and intermediaries who have easier access to the most relevant information.”
A co-author of the report, Raffaele Poli, told the Guardian that the Cies presented its findings to Uefa and the governing body chose not to make them public.
In the study, Cies asserts the opaque nature of the transfer market provides an ideal environment for the embezzlement of money by officials and the operation of organised crime. It says a lack of transparency in the payment of agent commissions allows for money-laundering alongside tax evasion schemes. Payments are often made to tax havens, not only for the purposes of enriching agents but also to “the club owners and executives with whom they collaborate”, the report concludes.
The summary paints a picture of a system rife with illegality and controlled by a cadre of agents, who are left undisturbed by global and regional governing bodies, which are unwilling, or unable, to stem their behaviour.
“There is a dirty mentality a bit in football with a lot of people trying to find ways of enriching themselves and taking advantage of all of this money that’s circulating –especially through the transfers,” Poli told the Guardian.
The report – entitled Intermediation market and transfers in football; state of play, empirical working and corrective measures – finds that the undue influence of “well-established” agents and the complicity of clubs had a detrimental effect on the fair representation of players. The common practice of agents being hired and paid by clubs to act as intermediaries leads to a “lack of loyalty” to the player, while creating an elite class of representatives. The document argues this has led to clubs preferring to deal with larger agents, more willing to act in their favour. This, the report claims, is “to the detriment of agents with greater professional conscience”.
The report’s one recommendation that is close to fruition is the creation of a clearing house system by Fifa. The principle was agreed by world football’s governing body in October 2018 and does not appear to have been a response to the report.
The report recommended a clearing house through which all payments to agents should be made. Fifa’s clearing house is, initially at least, only for transfer payments associated with training compensation for a young player’s former club. It has said it intends to include agent payments in future.
The Cies study also recommends agents be “paid by their effective clients” instead of by clubs. Other recommendations include that agent commissions be capped and tied to the salary of the player, replacing the practice of commissions being paid as a proportion of the transfer fee – and Fifa plans to act on agent commissions next year.
The authors’ remaining suggestions are that individuals with criminal records be barred from registering as intermediaries; an investigative body be established to examine disputes and cross-check the flow of money in transfers; a strong sanction system be introduced; and an education programme be set up. Some of these will also be considered by Fifa’s Council next year.
Uefa said it had commissioned the study before the formation of Fifa’s Transfer System Task Force in 2018. “An outcome of the Task Force has indeed been a new regulatory framework for agents which is still being worked on,” it said. “As a standard practice, Uefa frequently commissions studies on a wide range of issues to help share its internal thinking. These studies are not made publicly available.”
Fifa said: “The need for a stricter regulatory framework came as a response to a series of worrying trends that have affected the transfer market in recent years. In particular, Fifa has observed a growing number of abusive and excessive practices, widespread conflicts of interests, and a market driven by speculation rather than solidarity and redistribution across the football pyramid. The regulations introduce basic service standards to the relationship between a football agent and their client, and reinforce the duty of loyalty that exists in all types of agent-client relationships.”