FIFA’s New Regulations in Dealing with Minors

On April 1, 2015, FIFA’s Regulations on Working with Intermediaries became effective. The 2015 Regulations essentially de-regulated the football agent industry. For instance, the Regulations no longer required agents to be licensed, pass an exam or provide insurance. In fact, the term “agent” wasn’t even used in these Regulations; instead, the Regulations referred to agents as “intermediaries.” The Regulations made it easier for someone to become a football agent/intermediary and, not surprisingly, the number of football intermediaries greatly increased. The English FA reported that there were more intermediaries than registered players. Because of the de-regulation of the industry, many individuals became “intermediaries” who may not have otherwise qualified to become an agent under the prior regulations. Many of these new intermediaries lacked the requisite knowledge, experience or skills to effectively manage professional footballers. Some of them were further lacking in ethical acumen, which led to even more problems within the industry, including disdain from the public about the actions of football intermediaries.

However, on December 16, 2022, FIFA approved of an entirely new set of regulations, titled the FIFA Football Agent Regulations. As you can see, FIFA went back to use of the term “agents” as opposed to intermediaries. Certain portions of the 2022 Regulations became effective on January 9, 2023 while other portions become effective on October 1, 2023. While many of the 2022 Regulations depart from the 2015 Regulations, this blog will only discuss one specific area – regulations related to how agents deal with minors. This blog will be the first of many to deal with the new FIFA Agent Regulations.

The old, 2015 Regulations contained minimal regulations as related to minors. In fact, the term “minor” only appeared in the 2015 Regulations four (4) times, and in a redundant nature. The only regulations pertaining to minors contained in the 2015 Regulations were:

  1. The player’s legal guardian(s) was required to sign the representation contract with the intermediary (Article 5); and
  2. Players and/or clubs that engaged in the services of an intermediary when negotiating a contract and/or transfer with a minor were prohibited from making any payments to the intermediary while the player was a minor (Article 7.8).

The 2022 Regulations, on the other hand, contains an entire article dealing with minors. Article 13, titled “Representation of Minors,” was designed to advance one of FIFA’s stated objectives – to protect minors. To that end, Article 13 lists a variety of regulations that football agents must follow. Note that Article 13 is one of the provisions that becomes effective on October 1, 2023.

Article 13.1 provides that an “Approach (and/or any subsequent execution of a Representation Agreement) to a minor or their legal guardian between” may only be made no more than 6 (six) months before the minor reaches the age where they may sign their first professional contract in the territory where they will be employed. In addition, this “Approach” may only be made once prior written consent has been obtained from the minor’s legal guardian.

Before we can decipher what this provision means in practical terms, we need to figure out what some of these terms actually mean. FIFA defines the term “Approach” as “(i) any physical, in person contact or contact via any means of electronic communication with a Client; (ii) any direct or indirect contact with another person or organization linked to a Client, such as a family member or a friend; or (iii) any action when a Football Agent uses or directs another person or organization to contact a Client on their behalf in the manner described in (i) or (ii) above.”

So, basically, an “Approach” is any form of contact with a client or someone connected to a client – whether in person, via electronic communication (think of email or messaging through Instagram or Twitter) or otherwise (when an agent uses another person to contact the client). This seems simple enough.

Now that we know what an “Approach” is, the next question is when does a minor reach the age where they may sign their first professional contract? This depends on where the minor intends to be employed. As FIFA instructs, the date is dependent on the territory where the minor will be employed.

If the minor intends on being employed in the United Kingdom, Article 13.1 is fairly straightforward. The English FA’s “Rules of the Association” – specifically, provision C11 – provides that “Players must be aged 18 or over in order to enter into a Playing Contract, save that a Player aged 17 may enter into a Playing Contract where they are not in Full-Time Education.” So, in the UK, it is possible for a 17-year-old to enter into a Playing Contract. An agent can, under the new FIFA Regulations, approach that 17-year old when he is 16 ½ years old.

As an aside, Article 13.1 seems to be modeled, at least in part, on the English FA’s Regulations on Working with Intermediaries. Those Regulations currently provide that an Intermediary cannot make an approach to a Player to enter into a Representation Contract until January 1 of the year of the Player’s 16th birthday, provided they obtain written consent of the Player’s parent or guardian.

But, what if the country where the minor intends to be employed does not have a provision comparable to the English FA’s C11? Take the United States, for example. The United States Soccer Federation does not have any regulation clarifying when a minor can sign their first professional contract. So, what age do we use when interpreting Article 13.1 for a minor who intends to play in the USA? Below are two interpretations of Article 13.1 based on FIFA’s plain language. We believe the second interpretation is more reasonable and consistent with FIFA’s other regulations, as we explain below.

Interpretation 1 – Based on the Age of 18:

Generally, an individual must be the age of majority – 18 – to form and agree to an enforceable contract in the United States. But, there’s a caveat to this general statement – and here it is: a minor under the age of 18 can sign a contract, but that contract is “voidable” by the minor (with a few exceptions). What this means is that a minor can sign a contract, but he has the option to declare the contract void if he chooses to do so.

So, let’s say that again and make that clear without digging too deep into contract law. A 16-year-old can sign a professional soccer contract, but that contract can be voided by him if he chooses to do so. With that in mind, we do not believe that 18 is the age that we need to focus on when interpreting Article 13.1 because a 16-year-old can sign a contract.

Another reason why using the age of 18 is inappropriate is because it conflicts with other FIFA Regulations currently in effect. Using the age of 18 would prevent an agent from approaching a minor or a minor’s legal guardian or having them sign an agent contract until the minor is 17 ½ years old. However, Article 19.2 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (regulations that are entirely separate from the FIFA Agent Regulations) allows a player between the ages of 16 and 18 to complete an international transfer if the transfer takes place within the territory of the European Union. By example, Article 19.2 would allow an American football player who is 16 years old to sign a professional contract in country that is part of the European Union if they hold a European Union passport – just as 16-year-old Christian Pulisic did when he signed with Borussia Dortmund in February of 2015. But, if we used the age of 18 as the starting point, Article 13.1 of the 2022 FIFA Agent Regulations prevents that same 16-year-old from signing a representation agreement with an agent who might assist him with that move. Using the age of 18 would not further FIFA’s stated objective of protecting minors and, in fact, it would be to the minor’s detriment.

Interpretation 2 – Based on the Age of 14:

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, generally speaking, the Fair Labor Standards Act sets the minimum age for employment at 14 years old for non-agricultural jobs. Consistent with this, Major League Soccer has signed several 14-year-olds to professional contracts. Considering that someone under the age of 18 can sign a contract and a 14-year-old can work in a non-agricultural job in the US, and the ultimate fact that many 14-year-olds have already signed professional football contracts in the US, we would maintain that the relevant age to focus on for Article 13.1 is the age of 14. This would mean that an agent could approach a player when he turns 13 1/2 years old if he or she obtains the written consent of the parent or legal guardian.

Using the age of 14 as the age for Article 13.1 is consistent with general law in the US regarding the ability of minors to enter into contracts, consistent with the FLSA’s minimum age for employment, and furthers FIFA’s stated objective in protecting minors. Therefore, unless further clarification is provided by FIFA or the USSF, we intend on advising our clients that under the new FIFA Regulations, an agent may approach a player with the written consent of the player’s parent or guardian when they are 13 1/2 years old.

Other provisions of Article 13 are less problematic. Article 13.2 requires an agent to complete a course on dealing with minors and to comply with established laws regarding minors in the territory where the minor will be employed. Article 13.3 contains requirements for what the contract between the agent and minor must contain (meets certain minimum requirements; is signed only after the minor is 17 ½ years old and the agent completes the required minor course; is signed by the minor and their legal guardian).

Article 13 also contains a penalty for an agent violating the provision. Specifically, Article 13.4 provides that any violation of Article 13.1 shall be sanctioned, at a minimum, with a fine and suspension of a football agent’s license of up to two years. There are no other provisions in the new FIFA Regulations with a two-year suspension of an agent’s license.

Article 14.9 discusses Service Fees that agents may charge a minor. It provides that an agent may not receive a service fee (i.e., a commission) relating to a minor unless the player is signing their first or subsequent professional contract “in accordance with the law applicable in the country or territory of the member association where the minor will be employed.” Presumably the language “in accordance with the law applicable in the country or territory of the member association where the minor will be employed” means that the minor cannot sign a contract until he reaches the age of majority. But, the language is unclear and hopefully FIFA will clarify.

In all, FIFA’s 2022 Agent Regulations contain more restrictions on agents when it comes to dealing with minors. FIFA’s stated intention is to protect minors, but as noted above, the Regulations may actually do more harm than good. Only time will tell.

Mario Iveljic is an attorney at Mag Mile Law and a soccer agent. For more insight on the new FIFA Agent Regulations, or if you are a player in need of representation, please contact Mario at Mario@magmilelaw.com.

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