It is common knowledge that English Premiership club side and 2019 Europa League champions, Chelsea FC has been hit with a transfer ban by world football governing body, the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA). Chelsea FC was banned from registering players for two consecutive transfer windows over breach of a very important football legal framework with respect to the transfer and signature of minors. This legal framework is the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP), with its latest amendment in 16 March 2018. The amendment came into effect 1 June 2018.
Simply put, Chelsea was alleged and found guilty for breaches of the FIFA RSTP with respect to the transfer of players who are under 18 years old (minors). FIFA announced this sanction on 22nd February, 2019.
WHAT IS CHELSEA FC GUILTY OF?
The answer to this important question has been streamlined into two major standpoints:
ILLEGAL TRANSFER OF MINORS
Chelsea breached Article 19 RSTP which concerns the registration of minors. Chelsea was accused of having played youngsters – most of them being minors – on trial in its youth teams without registering them. Though the English Football Association (FA) has rather more relaxed rules with respect to transfer of players, it (English FA) was found in breach of the RSTP alongside Chelsea FC. For clarity, Article 19 RSTP is set out below:
“19. Protection of minors
1. International transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18.
2. The following three exceptions to this rule apply:
a) The player’s parents’ move to the country in which the new club is located for reasons not linked to football.
b) The transfer takes place within the territory of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) and the player is aged between 16 and 18. In this case, the new club must fulfil the following minimum obligations:
i. It shall provide the player with an adequate football education and/or training in line with the highest national standards.
ii. It shall guarantee the player an academic and/or school and/or vocational education and/or training, in addition to his football education and/or training, which will allow the player to pursue a career other than football should he cease playing professional football.
iii. It shall make all necessary arrangements to ensure that the player is looked after in the best possible way (optimum living standards with a host family or in club accommodation, appointment of a mentor at the club, etc.).
iv. It shall, on registration of such a player, provide the relevant association with proof that it is complying with the aforementioned obligations.
c) The player lives no further than 50km from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered in the neighbouring association is also within 50km of that border. The maximum distance between the player’s domicile and the club’s headquarters shall be 100km. In such cases, the player must continue to live at home and the two associations concerned must give their explicit consent.
A high-profile example of this breach is the Bertrand Traore tale. Bertrand Traore is a Burkina Faso international (made his debut for the team at just 15) and was at French football club, Auxerre. He moved to London at age 15. Chelsea could not lawfully sign him because minors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) cannot move to clubs abroad except for “non-footballing reasons” (or if the club is less than 60 miles from the border). As a tactical alternative to strictly adhering to the RSTP, Chelsea FC financed his enrolment in a private boarding school. He appeared in a few friendlies for the youth team as a player on trial and eventually signed when he turned 18. The purport of the phrase “non-footballing reasons” is quite literal and requires no stress at all – reasons other than for professional football.
ILLEGAL THIRD PARTY INFLUENCE
The second standpoint in this context relates to a breach of Article 18b of the RSTP which contains rules guiding “third-party influence.” A commonplace practice in the transfer of players permissible under FIFA regulations until 2017 was the entering into agreements with outside parties (usually agents). These outside parties influence how a football club operates regarding employment and transfer-related matters. They (agents) have even been found facilitating breach of contracts; players or their agents and family members are paid to breach their contracts with football clubs.
Flashing back to the annals of history, Chelsea FC had been charged for this breach in the past, notably with Gael Kakuta and Nigerian International and erstwhile captain, John Obi Mikel. In both cases, an agreement was reached on compensation and the charges were consequently dropped.
WHAT ELSE TRANSPIRED APART FROM THE BAN?
In addition to the transfer ban, FIFA imposed a fine of 600,000 Swiss Francs (£460k/$600k) and the Blues (Chelsea FC) was given a period of 90 days to “regularise the situation of the minor players concerned”.
It is noteworthy that the English Football Association (FA) was also ‘tagged along’ or punished alongside Chelsea. FIFA fined the English governing body 510,000 Swiss Francs (£390k/$510k) for the breaches and imposed a six-month period within which to “address the situation”.
HAVE CHELSEA APPEALED THE BAN?
Chelsea initially filed an appeal directly to FIFA, which was rejected in April 2019 by the Organizations Appeals Committee. Two months later (June), an appeal was lodged with the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS).
A statement from CAS read:
“The Court of Arbitration for Sport has registered an appeal filed by Chelsea Football Club Ltd (CFC) against the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). It is not possible to say at this time when the Arbitral Award will be issued. CAS will not provide any further information in relation to this procedure, except to issue a Media Release announcing the Panel’s decision.”(1)
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE FIFA BAN
Chelsea will not be allowed to sign players despite an appeal being lodged as they did not seek a freeze (or Stay of Execution) on the sanction. The appeal process is quite a lengthy one.
AFTERMATH OF THE BAN
Within this period, i.e. the period covering the transfer ban, Chelsea surprisingly completed the signing of Croatian international Mateo Kovacic on a permanent basis from Real Madrid having spent the 2018/2019 season on loan at Chelsea. In addition, United States international, Christian Pulisic joined the Chelsea squad from German football giant, Borussia Dortmund.
Is Kovacic’s signing legally permitted despite the FIFA Transfer Ban?
Despite being banned by FIFA from signing players for the next 12 months until the 2020 summer window, Chelsea managed to acquire Kovacic permanently because of a loophole in their transfer suspension. The Croatian joined the club on loan for the duration of last season and the agreement between Chelsea and Real Madrid stipulated that the Blues had the option to purchase Kovacic for €45m (£40m/$51m) before June 30, 2019. Because Kovacic’s loan deal between the two clubs was signed off before Chelsea’s transfer ban was implemented in February, they are legally permitted to sign the player permanently without flouting the rules. The FIFA ban is not retrospective in effect.
The ban is unlikely to be overturned in the near-future but could possibly be scrapped before the 2020 winter window if a favourable finding is found.
IS CHRISTIAN PULISIC’S ARRIVAL LAWFUL?
It would be recalled that the Chelsea transfer ban was announced in February. In the January Transfer Window, Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund reached a double-decker agreement for the signature of Christian Pulisic. This agreement is broken down as follows:
- The agreement for the signing of Christian Pulisic as a Chelsea player for 58 million Pound Sterling; and
- The agreement for the signing of Christian Pulisic (already a Chelsea player) on loan to Borussia Dortmund until the end of the 2018/2019 season in June.
The law does not take retroactive effect. Since Pulisic had effectively become a Chelsea player in January, the transfer ban does not affect his signature for Chelsea.
Sports law is very organized and exciting especially as it relates to the most important sport in the world, the Game of Football. Consistent knowledge and exposure to this area of law is important not just for the fun of it, but to enlarge our horizon in terms of legal reasoning and policy formulation.
All Pictures sourced from Pixaby.com
Atasie Timothy is a Lagos-based legal practitioner with growing experience in dispute resolution, entertainment and sports law. In his spare time he is a sports writer.
You can reach him at email@example.com
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