On 27 and 28 January 2016, FIFA and CONCACAF joined forces to organise a club licensing seminar in Panama for all Member Associations in the CONCACAF region.

The seminar followed the CONCACAF club licensing launch in early 2015, and continues the efforts by the world governing body, the confederation and the national associations to globalise club licensing and establish systems in each corner of the world.

The two-day seminar involved two representatives from each Member Association, including general secretaries, league CEOs and dedicated club licensing managers. Several well-known guests were invited to participate in the seminar, including Karina LeBlanc (recently retired professional footballer with Chicago Red Stars and the Canadian women's national team), Enrique Bonilla (Executive President of Liga MX) and Juan Carlos Rojas Callan (President of Deportivo Saprissa in Costa Rica), in an effort by FIFA to promote stakeholder inclusiveness and lift the level of overall governance. 

This move is in line with the decision by the FIFA Executive Committee to approve a set of proposals by the 2016 FIFA Reform Committee that will be put before the Congress in its extraordinary session on 26 February. In particular, a key point is to promote “Greater transparency and inclusion through broader stakeholder representation: creation of a dedicated Football Stakeholders Committee to include members representing key stakeholders in the game, such as players, clubs and leagues.” In order to compliment and administer the Football Stakeholders Committee, the FIFA Executive Committee also decided to establish a Professional Football Department.

“Professional football starts at the desk,” Bonilla said during the two-day event. “Many in football focus on great coaches, referees and players. You also need great professionals who make the difference every day in organising the leagues. This point needs to be understood by all clubs who are seeking to develop and club licensing is the tool that can nurture this development."

The seminar, which included presentations by FIFA, CONCACAF, Member Associations and key football stakeholders, aimed at clarifying the outlines of the club football structure at national level and presenting a way forward towards greater professionalism in the entire CONCACAF region by using club licensing as a development tool, regardless of the participating country’s size and current development status.

It also extended the consultation process currently being carried out by FIFA with the confederations on reviewing the FIFA Club Licensing Regulations in order to create a club licensing system that ‎is global in nature. The system respects different club football structures that exist in each region, ‎is realistic and flexible enough to be adapted region to region and includes, as well as promotes, women's football. Karina LeBlanc shared this view to the participants, saying “For us athletes, professionalising football is in details – if you want us to be professional athletes, you have to treat us as professionals. Secure and fair employment conditions, proper travel arrangements, and the little things, like ensuring even laundry is done. And for us women athletes, promoting women's football through club licensing means so much more: it’s about giving young girls, 12 or 13 years old, a brighter perspective. Getting them to believe in themselves, that they can become an athlete, an Olympian, and even more – a doctor, a businesswoman, anything they’d like. By including women's football in club licensing, FIFA and CONCACAF are moving ‎in the right direction."

Juan Carlos Rojas weighed in on the benefits of including the club’s perspective in club licensing and, more generally, decision making processes: “The clubs can help governing bodies arrive at better decisions if our views are considered when taking decisions. If we do things right as clubs we can have a huge impact on our community. But we also thought at Saprissa that if we aspired to excellence we could be a really good business too. For instance we have a project in the club that we call “stadium experience”; we want people coming to our stadium to get a wonderful experience, so much so that they want to come back. Security, infrastructure or pricing are all crucial aspects. Understand that people can find other things to do than going to the stadium, so we need to invest in bringing them to us.”

UEFA and the AFC have established successful club licensing systems in Europe and Asia, while over the past 12 months FIFA has prioritised and dedicated its attention to growing club licensing in CONCACAF, CAF, and OFC in order to develop club football on and off the pitch in each region. Club licensing is evolving rapidly in these regions. CONMEBOL is also scheduled to adopt a club licensing system before the end of 2016.