Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

United Kingdom

Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

United Kingdom

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

1.1. Agency in sport

While the term "agency" in the sporting context can encompass a range of different activities, it is the role of agents in player transfers that chiefly concerns the sports regulators. Agents in football in particular have been regarded in many quarters with a degree of suspicion over the years. There have been numerous stories of agents acting for or taking money from both parties to a transaction, trying to entice players away from other agents or of making illicit payments--so called "bungs"--to club officials to help deals go through.

The culture of suspicion relating to the profession is probably unfair on the majority of football agents, who conduct their business properly and in accordance with the sport's regulations. Nonetheless, fuelled in no small part by media interest, there have been a number of initiatives directed at trying to "clean up" football and the role of agents within the game. The FA Premier League ("Premier League") announced on 3 March 2006 that it had commissioned an investigation under the chairmanship of Lord Stevens, previously the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, into the bung allegations surrounding Premier League transfers. Lord Stevens' company Quest Limited was briefed to look into all 36z Premier League transfers taking place between 1 January 2004 and 31 January 2006. The investigation was not specifically focused on the role played by agents but inevitably they have been subjected to close scrutiny. On 20 December 2006, Quest issued its finding that 17 of the 362 transfers merited "further investigation". The Premier League board resolved that Quest should be asked to undertake that further investigation, which is ongoing at the time of publication.

Perhaps even more significant in terms of football's attempt to clean up the sport and the perceptions of agents within it is the FAs programme of updating of the agents' regulations. As of the opening of the transfer window on 1 January 2006, new regulations (referred to herein as the "2006 Regulations") were enacted under which--inter alia--controls on agents in respect of the issue of dual representation (i.e. an agent or agency acting for both sides of a transaction) were tightened. The changes effected by the 2006 Regulations are considered in detail in Section 4.1.2. As is explained in Section 4.1.5 below, further changes to those regulations are currently scheduled to be enacted as what are referred to in this Chapter as the "Proposed 2007 Regulations"

1.2. How far should the regulators go?

The question of the appropriate level of regulation in respect of agents is a vexed one. Clearly, a major concern is to ensure that sport is seen to be as "clean" as possible and in this regard, the more safeguards that can be put in place the better. Furthermore, acting as an agent for a player in respect of a proposed transfer brings employment regulations into play and, specifically, the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 (for more on which see Section 3.z below). These regulations bring with them specific duties, which agents must observe and which governing bodies must reflect in their own regulations.

For an entity like the FA, ensuring that football in England is as clean as it can be and fully in compliance with applicable employment agency regulations is not the only aspiration. It is crucial that clubs are not overly fettered in terms of their ability to do deals and to trade in players. It is an undeniable fact that a player's agent has a massive influence on which club the player moves to. And if an agent finds it harder to operate in a particular territory it follows that he is likely to focus on other territories where it is easier for him to do deals and secure the commission he is after. The regulators must therefore be wary of creating a regulatory regime which impacts on teams' ability to attract the best players. …

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