TMS: Protecting potential

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With a scramble for transfers expected to take place as the August transfer window closes at midnight on 31 August, the man in charge of FIFA’s Transfer Matching System (TMS), Mark Goddard, explained to how the process works, with specific reference to how younger players are protected under the new practice.

Back in 2007, FIFA received information that Danish club FC Midtjylland were regularly registering players under the age of 18 from Nigeria and opened an investigation into the matter. These investigations found the claims to be correct. FIFA set about issuing strong warnings to the Danish FA and the club for infringing the Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players, relating to the protection of minors.

Although the club appealed before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), their claims were rejected and FIFA’s decision was upheld.

“When we started to look at how to try and introduce things for minors that case was quoted as the ‘jump-off point’ when FIFA basically took the decision to make the whole process ‘in-house’,” explained Goddard. “It’s now no longer the association’s responsibility to independently determine if FIFA’s regulations are being followed, it’s now FIFA’s responsibility through the TMS and the minors’ application section.”

The transfer of minors has been outlawed with the following exceptions, laid out in Article 19 of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (see the 'Regulations on the Status and Transfers of players' link on the right):
- players between 16 and 18 are allowed to move within EU countries under certain conditions
- international transfers are allowed within a 50km radius on both sides of the border of a country
- transfers are permitted if a minor’s family has to move to another country for reasons not linked to football

“TMS puts the association who is making the application on behalf of their affiliated club through a questionnaire asking them to answer particular questions, including: ‘Is the player an amateur or a professional?’, ‘Which exception(s) is the player going for?’, ‘Is it a first registration or an international transfer?’

If you’re crossing a border, it’s FIFA’s jurisdiction and the relationship [between academies and clubs] is immaterial.

“If it’s an international transfer and the player is coming in on the ‘reasons not linked to football’ category and he’s going to a professional club, they would have to provide several documents. These include but are not limited to: the professional contract of the player, the employment contract of the player’s parents, proof of date of birth of the player, the proof of identity and nationality of the player and the parents.

“When it comes to minor applications it has nothing to do with the clubs that they belong to, it’s a question of ‘are they moving from one association to another?’ If you’re crossing a border, it’s FIFA’s jurisdiction and the relationship [between academies and clubs] is immaterial.”

Goddard admits that it would be naive to say that TMS has completely stopped the trafficking of young players altogether, but with FIFA TMS’s Compliance and Integrity Unit keeping a close eye on every single transfer, he is confident that trends will be exposed with further tightening of the regulations to follow.

“From October 2010 to July 2011, we’ve had 1,000 applications submitted to the sub-committee; 879 were accepted, 118 were rejected, 51 are still under consideration and 23 are awaiting judgement. It would be fair to say that we don’t think that all minor applications are going through the system, but we’re working on ways to try and make sure that that becomes a very bad decision.

“It’s now very easy for us to take the information which comes from our Integrity and Compliance Unit and cross-reference it in our own system with our own ability to look at minor applications by associations through names, through passports and determine if that boy or girl has gone through the system or not. There are a lot of checks against forged documents too. It’s something that we work on with the clubs, and the associations. This allows the Players’ Status department to have a good sense of confidence in what they’re seeing.”

Goddard understands that clubs are continually trying to gain a competitive advantage by attracting young players to their academies, but believes that the current processes are helping young players continue their development within their own countries.

“It’s a competitive environment, clubs are looking to gain an advantage and one of the ways seems to be very clearly to go younger and younger,” said Goddard. “But there are a couple of safeguarding mechanisms that FIFA have in place. These are called solidarity contribution and training compensation and they allow the training clubs that have very good players to receive compensation from the larger clubs that want to engage their services. The earlier that these players leave the less compensation these training clubs or lower-level clubs receive. It hopefully encourages clubs to retain their services for longer.

“The system seems to be working. I was in South America last year and I put a straightforward question to all ten associations. I said: ‘I don’t see a lot of applications to register minors, what’s going on?’ The association’s TMS managers turned around and said ‘It’s all too hard now, we’re just telling the clubs to wait until the player’s 18 and you can just do a normal transfer.’ That’s going towards what the regulations are fundamentally looking to do, which is have players who are under 18 stay where they are.”

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