Spanish FA, FC Barcelona sanctioned for international transfers of minors
© Getty Images

The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has sanctioned the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) and Spanish club FC Barcelona for breaches relating to the international transfer and registration of players under the age of 18.

The sanctions follow investigations initially conducted by FIFA Transfer Matching System GmbH (FIFA TMS) over the course of last year and subsequently by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee as part of disciplinary proceedings. The RFEF and FC Barcelona were found to have violated several provisions concerning the international transfer and first registration of non-Spanish minors with the club, as well as other relevant regulations with regard to the registration and participation of certain players in national competitions. The investigations concerned several minor players who were registered and participated in competitions with the club over various periods between 2009 and 2013.

Currently, the main provision relating to the protection of minors in the context of international transfers is art. 19 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (the “Regulations”). According to art. 19, international transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18. However, the same article stipulates that international transfers of minor players are permitted under three limited circumstances, and such exceptions may only be granted after evaluation by the sub-committee of the Players’ Status Committee.

In this respect, the Disciplinary Committee emphasised that the protection of minors in the context of international transfers is an important social and legal issue that concerns all stakeholders in football. Above all, the committee highlighted that while international transfers might, in specific cases, be favourable to a young player’s sporting career, they are very likely to be contrary to the best interests of the player as a minor. On the basis of this analysis, the committee concluded that “the interest in protecting the appropriate and healthy development of a minor as a whole must prevail over purely sporting interests.”

The Disciplinary Committee underlined that FIFA takes the protection of minors in football very seriously. The protection of minors is one of the key principles included in the agreement concluded between FIFA, UEFA and the European Commission in 2001. The Disciplinary Committee acknowledged that young football players are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in a foreign country without the proper controls. This particular fact makes the protection of minors in football by the sport’s governing bodies, especially by FIFA, even more important.

With regard to the case in question, FC Barcelona has been found to be in breach of art. 19 of the Regulations in the case of ten minor players and to have committed several other concurrent infringements in the context of other players, including under Annexe 2 of the Regulations.

The Disciplinary Committee regarded the infringements as serious and decided to sanction the club with a transfer ban at both national and international level for two complete and consecutive transfer periods, together with a fine of CHF 450,000. Additionally, the club was granted a period of 90 days in which to regularise the situation of all minor players concerned.

With regard to the RFEF, the Disciplinary Committee determined that the association had also violated art. 19 of the Regulations and other provisions in the context of the transfer and first registration of certain minor players. In this respect, the RFEF was sanctioned with a fine of CHF 500,000 and granted a period of one year in which to regularise their regulatory framework and existing system concerning the international transfer of minors in football.

In addition, the RFEF and the club were issued with a reprimand in accordance with art. 14 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code.

The web-based Transfer Matching System (TMS) became mandatory for all international transfers of professional male players within the scope of eleven-a-side football in October 2010. As early as 2009, the use of TMS was obligatory in all applications for a first registration of a minor or an international transfer involving a minor in accordance with art. 19 of the Regulations.

FIFA TMS, founded as a FIFA subsidiary in 2007, established a compliance programme in 2010 to ensure that all international transfers of professional football players are conducted through TMS in accordance with the Regulations, and to control the integrity of club and association behaviour and data in TMS. Cases involving violations of the Regulations, in particular Annexes 2 and 3, are identified and investigated and, where applicable, are then forwarded to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee for evaluation and decision. FIFA TMS monitors transfer activity using internally-developed market intelligence, external sources and information received from the FIFA Players’ Status & Governance and Disciplinary & Governance departments.