Fifa tightens transfer rules with new payments system

2010-02-26 14:07

THE Central American soccer director looked surprised when he was

told that to sell a player abroad the transfer fee had to be paid into a bank

account.

“Why would I need a bank account?” he asked. “I can put the money

in this steel box.”

The encounter, as related by a Fifa official, was one of many with Latin American soccer directors.

Soccer’s world governing body is implementing a new electronic

transfer system intended to crack down on money-laundering and third-party

ownership of players.

Traditionally, international transfers have been carried out by

faxes between the national associations involved – a system which Fifa says has

been open to all kinds of abuse.

“Until now transfers have been handled on paper, the way it was 100

years ago,” said Mark Goddard, general manager of the Transfer Matching System

(TMS), as the new procedure is known.

“It was impossible to keep track of what was going on. We’ve had

imaginary transfers of players who didn’t exist, players who have been made up –

all this has basically been going on. It was pretty much standard business

practice.”

Goddard said that under TMS, Fifa would be able to keep a much

closer watch on the international transfer market.

To complete a transfer, both the buying and selling clubs must

enter a number of details into the web-based system, including the transfer fee,

the player’s salary, the agent or lawyer involved and the length of the

contract.

The money must be transferred from and to a bank account.

“It’s one of the most thorough projects Fifa has ever had. It

changes the transfer market completely,” said Goddard.

“It does not materially change the regulations, but it is an

effective way to make sure rules are being enforced.”

One of the biggest changes will be preventing third parties such as

companies, agents or pension funds from owning players – a practice especially

common in South America.

Third-party ownership came to prominence when West Ham United

bought Argentina forward Carlos Tevez, who had previously been playing at

Corinthians.

West Ham were fined $8.5 million (about R58 million) in April 2007

when the Premier League ruled they had broken the rules, after it had emerged

that Tevez’s transfer rights were partly owned by a private company.

The club escaped a points deduction, however, and Tevez scored the

winning goal when West Ham beat Manchester United 1-0 on the final day of the

season to escape relegation.

Sheffield United, who went down in their place, launched a claim

for damages against West Ham, with the two clubs later reaching an out-of-court

settlement.

“It is clear in the regulations that no third parties can be

involved in the ownership of football players,” said Goddard.

“Everything which has existed until now will disappear. It is not

possible to enter a transfer between a club and a company, for example.”

Another rule is that football academies – which have sprouted in

Africa, often run by European clubs or companies – will have to field teams in

local amateur or professional competitions before they can sell players.

Fifa believes the new system will also end disputes over whether or

not clubs have been paid for players and over whether a deal was completed

before transfer-window deadlines.

“Clubs will not be able to argue if the evidence is all there in

the system,” Goddard said. “We are aware that clubs love to leave things to the

last minute and love to play chicken with each other. But if a transfer is not

completed by the deadline, then they’re going to have to go to the players’

status committee and explain why.”

So far 144 national associations and 2 010 clubs participate in the

system, which is due to be fully implemented by October.

Seminars have been held to instruct clubs on using the system, and

reaction has varied widely.

“The German clubs actually wanted to speed up the whole process,”

said Goddard.

“We’ve also had inquiries from national associations who are

interested in using the system for domestic transfers. Two clubs in England and

Scotland were able to complete a transfer through the system and receive

clearance in seven minutes. The player was able to make his debut the same

afternoon.”

On the other hand, Fifa officials were given a difficult reception

when they visited Brazil. The clubs had all lined up their legal officials, who

had learned the Fifa statutes by heart and picked holes in the TMS.

“It is clear what was going on in South America. It was a long and

robust discussion,” said Goddard.

“We told them that these were the rules, and if they wanted to sell

players abroad they had to adapt.”

One of the big questions is how well the new system can be

enforced, as it is up to the clubs to enter the information into the system

correctly.

“TMS will be developing processes to check that clubs are

disclosing the correct information. If they do not, they will be referred to the

disciplinary committee,” Goddard said.

“The obligation is to tell the truth and the consequences of not

doing so will be substantial for clubs who are caught doing it.”


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