Professional Soccer: Who’s the Boss?

When it comes to the oversight of football/soccer players, people often wonder who is in charge? Who is the boss? And no, we’re not talking about the hit TV show from back in the 1980’s. We’re talking about who has the authority to make rules regarding soccer players and decide disputes when they arise.

Most simply, there are two governing authorities: (1) FIFA (the Federation Internationale de Football Association; and (2) individual national soccer associations (such as the United States Soccer Federation). Think of FIFA as the federal government, and the individual national soccer associations as the state governments. Each has the authority to make certain rules regarding soccer players and each has the authority to decide certain disputes when they arise.

Here is how it works:

FIFA has stated that it has the statutory objective to draw up regulations and provisions governing the game of football and related matters and to ensure their enforcement. Therefore, FIFA has drafted rules called “Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players,” the most recent version being completed in July of 2022. These regulations provide “global and binding rules” regarding three general areas: (1) the status of players; (2) their eligibility to play organized soccer; and (3) their transfer between clubs belonging to different national associations (i.e., international transfers). These regulations attempt to provide answers for many common questions concerning the sport. For example, which categories of players should be recognized and organized soccer? Under what conditions should they be authorized to participate in organized soccer? What is the nature of their relationship with their club? What kinds of relationships should the clubs have with each other? What should happen if these relationships are disrupted? How can players move between clubs and become eligible to play for new clubs?

So, FIFA is responsible for regulating the game internationally. But it also has a duty to respect the autonomy of its member associations – because certain issues that are of a purely domestic nature are regulated and enforced by individual national soccer associations. For instance, individual national soccer associations govern the transfer of players between clubs belonging to that individual soccer association (although those regulations must be approved by FIFA and must also provide for rules for settlement of disputes between clubs and players).

There are certain FIFA regulations that are mandatory and must be included without modification in a national soccer association’s regulations. One of these regulations deals with minor soccer players – meaning those soccer players under the age of 18 (which is something we discuss in another blog). The FIFA regulations also require associations to include appropriate means to protect contractual stability, paying due respect to mandatory national law and collective bargaining agreements. In other words, FIFA encourages the principle that contracts must be respected, that contracts may be terminated by either party without consequences where there is just cause and the principle that contracts may be terminated by professionals with sporting just cause. We discuss FIFA’s regulations on contracts in another blog.

Overall, then, there is a “three-tier” approach to regulating organized soccer:

The first tier, the “international tier,” refers to regulations that govern international issues, like international player transfers. These regulations are provided by FIFA.

The second tier, the “prescribed national tier,” relates to those obligations on member associations with respect to their national transfers rules, leaving no discretion regarding the introduction of such rules. In other words, this tier includes regulations that national associations must implement in accordance with FIFA rules. For instance, each member association must implement regulations governing the transfer of players between its affiliated clubs which must be approved by FIFA so FIFA can ensure that the mandatory FIFA provisions and required principles are included. Under this tier of rules, the freedom of member soccer associations to draw up their own national regulations is limited in certain respects.

The third tier, the “flexible national tier,” refers to certain principles that individual member associations must incorporate within their national regulations. The individual associations have the autonomy to decide on the details within their national regulations. For instance, the FIFA regulations require member associations to implement national rules for settling disputes between clubs and players in accordance with the principles of the FIFA regulations. Also, the national regulations must provide a system to reward clubs for their investment in the training and education of young players that become professional. Also, the FIFA regulations require member associations to ensure that contractual stability is protected in their national regulations.

This is only a general idea of how the regulations work. For more information, contact Mario Iveljic, who is a Partner and one of the Founders of Mag Mile Law. He is also a registered soccer agent (intermediary) with the U.S. Soccer Federation. He can be reached at [email protected], or (708) 576-1624.


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