Regulating Players' Agents: A Global Perspective

By Parrish, Richard | The International Sports Law Journal, January-April 2007 | Go to article overview

Regulating Players' Agents: A Global Perspective

Parrish, Richard, The International Sports Law Journal

Three recurring themes have emerged in the contributions to this book: what are players' agents, why should they be regulated and how should they be regulated? The first question appears straightforward as agents perform similar functions throughout the world. Nevertheless, as the contributions reveal, the manner in which agents operate varies. The questions of why and how to regulate again reveals common themes but also considerable variations in patterns of regulation. Many of the contributors cite instances of agent abuse although on closer inspection we see that the forms of regulation employed by the governing bodies and the norms of industry practice can also cause problems. Are agents inherently corrupt or do the rules, as currently constituted, and the industry norms preclude agents from practicing within existing rules? By industry norms we are not referring to agent conduct but the conduct of clubs and players who engage their services in a manner inconsistent with current rules. Furthermore, have the regulators actually shown any great enthusiasm on clamping down on such practices? If indeed football has an 'agent problem', are not the regulators, the clubs and the players equally complicit? Questions of agent regulation therefore need to reflect the wider, and to some extent more uncomfortable, issues facing football. 'Cleaning up' the game and injecting much needed transparency into agent activity might be universally welcomed as a sound bite headline, but should the regulators recognise industry norms within the rules, thus guaranteeing genuine transparency, or should they ensure that industry norms reflect current industry rules? This debate can easily be juxtaposed. On the one hand, does firmness and prohibition maintain the integrity of the game? On the other, does flexibility and openness create transparency? The reality is surely that transparency equals integrity and in this respect there is therefore much to play for.

What are Players' Agents?

An agent is a person authorised to act for another when dealing with third parties. In theory, a players' agent is merely an intermediary ensuring the supply and demand for labour within sport is met. For a fee (commission), they assist players in finding clubs, or clubs in findings players. Who benefits from the work of agents? One the one hand a player (particularly a young player) negotiating a contract with a club without representation is disadvantaged as the power relationship between the negotiating parties is often stacked in favour of the club. For example, a player is unlikely to be familiar with the inner workings of a club including its existing pay structures. They are therefore more likely to succumb to pressure tactics used by the club and accept 'take it or leave it' contract offers. An agent, equipped with the relevant skills and knowledge, can significantly improve a players pay and conditions and can provide valuable career advice. Nevertheless, a similarly unequal power balance can emerge in the relationship between a player and an agent, particularly if a player becomes heavily reliant on their agent and their agent negotiates on their behalf without the knowledge of the player. In this instance, the old adage that an agent looks after the affairs of a player so that he can concentrate on his sporting duties simply means that a player-agent contract conceals the subordination of the player. A club can also benefit from employing the services of an agent. Although clubs often complain that agents unsettle players by encouraging their nomadic instincts and at the same time take large sums of money out of the game, clubs frequently use, and pay agents to attract new talent. Agents who work for clubs are often required to persuade players to accept terms favourable to the clubs. In some instances, agents act for a club whilst having a contract to act exclusively for a player, a clear conflict of interest. Such dual representation is prohibited by the FIFA Players Agent Regulations and amounts to a breach of contract with the player. …

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