Italy’s new football intermediaries’ law – a testing regime

Published 01 August 2018 | Authored by: Lucio Mazzei

As is well-known in the world of football, the FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries (Regulations) came into force with effect from 1 April 2015. The Regulations repealed the previous licensing system and introduced a new regime that shifted the focus from who can be an intermediary (agent) to how they operate (note: for more background on the Regulations, please see here1).

Pursuant to Article 1 of the Regulations, FIFA requires national football associations to implement and enforce its provisions. However,they expressly reserve associations’ rights “to go beyond these minimum standards/requirements”, allowing them the flexibility to determine how the Regulations are integrated at national level.

This article examines how Italy currently regulates the activity of intermediaries. It focuses on the recent new that has been passed, requiring intermediaries to be registered with their national federations, and to pass an examination process to qualify.

The new national register for intermediaries

In Italy, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) only carried out the minimum standards stated by the new Regulations, leading to a total deregulation of intermediaries. As a consequence, Italian intermediaries, through their associations, respectively IAFA and AIACS, lobbied for the creation of a new national regulatory regime for those commencing agency activity in football after the enforcement of the Regulations on 1 April 2015.

After years of pressure and complaints, the Italian Parliament finally approved the “Budget Law” of 27 December 2017 (Law) giving the President of the Council the obligation to establish a new National Register together with the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) for all the sports intermediaries (not only those operating in football) working in Italy.

The new "amendment" is based on the notion that those who undertake the activity of bringing two or more parties together with a view to concluding a contract for professional sports activities, or to register an athlete for the first time with a National Federation, must be a registered agent on the Agents’ Register of each National Federation.

The pre-requisites for candidates qualifying as an agent under the new regulatory regime is as follows2:

  1. they must pass an habilitation exam;

  2. they must be Italian citizens;

  3. they must pay an annual fee of 250 Euro;

  4. have at least a secondary school diploma; and

  5. They must have taken an internship/stage with a sports intermediary for at least 6 months and/or attended a training course with a duration of at least 80 hours, held by CONI.

Qualified agents are the only ones who can assist clubs or athletes in the transfers and, moreover, all the contracts or agreements signed from people who do not respect these requirements are to be considered null and avoid.

The examination process

The specific characteristic of the new Law is that, according to Article 3 of the Law, 23 March 2018, the mandatory exam is divided into two tests:

  • the first is under control of CONI and the subjects are the fundamental principles of private, administrative and civil law, in addition to the general knowledge of Sports Law; and

  • the second is to be taken before the relative national federation where the intermediary intends to operate and it is more focused on the legal knowledge of the federal regulations, statutes and Codes of Justice.

This year there will be only one exam respectively before CONI in September and before the specific federation in November; but starting from 2019, tests will take place twice a year.

The CONI test (March and September of every year from 2019 onwards) will be evaluated by a judging committee constituted of three professionals chosen among sport law experts and representatives of CONI whereas the federal tests, which will take place every May and November, will be under the examination of legal matters experts.

It is important to highlight that it is possible to take the exam for working within the specific federations only after passing CONI test. Once both have been passed, the candidate is entitled to be registered to the Federal Register of Sports Agents and to the National Register of Sports Agents, held by CONI and finally to work as a sports intermediary in Italy. The registration as an Italian agent is subject to the additional obligation to participate every year in further training, failing which such agents may potentially be excluded from the Registers.

One exception to the new regime are lawyers who often worked as intermediaries in the past years. Article 7 states that the Law’s provisions will be effective “without prejudice to the professional competence recognized by law”. The Law makes no explicit reference to the category of lawyers, but the author’s view is that it means that a lawyer can work as a sports intermediary without taking any kind of exams and registering with the National Register.

As mentioned above, any contract executed with the assistance of a person who is not registered in the Registers is null and void. This "strictness and severity" should work as a deterrent for any kind of breach of this system therefore, resulting in a higher degree of compliance with the new Law.

Foreign Intermediaries

At first sight, the new Italian Law may be seen to be in conflict with EU competition laws on freedom of movement, services and establishment. However, the new Law tries to avoid this incompatibility via Article 11, which states that EU citizens who already have a licence to operate as sports agents in other Member States may have apply to be registered by the relevant National Federation and in a special section of the National Register.

It will be down to each Italian sports federation to verify whether the applicant intermediary is truly authorized to work by the sports federation in their country of origin. Having made the relevant checks, the Italian federation that has registered the intermediary in its special section will have the duty to ask Italian Olympic Committee to register the agent in a special section of the National Register.

Sanctions and dispute resolution

Intermediaries who violate the Law will be sanctioned, depending on the severity or duration of the violation, with a range of sanctions which goes from a fine of 5,000 Euro to a ban of 24 months max (or even to an expulsion from the Register, in the case of a multiple offender).

The sanctions will be imposed by the National Commission of Sports Intermediaries and the agents can appeal against their decisions before an Arbitration Committee set up within the Collegio di Garanzia del Coni (the upper Italian Sports Justice Body).

The Arbitration Committee will also judge on any controversies regarding with the validity, the interpretation and the execution of all contracts signed by the sports agents, and on economic matters pursuant to contracts between intermediaries and players or intermediaries and federations, associations or clubs.

The author tends to think that a new national law was necessary as Italy is responsible for generating the second highest agents’ commissions3, globally. As such, the market needs to have qualified people who meet a certain professional standard. Notwithstanding this, it will be important to see if new Italian regulations will be compatible with the proposed amendments4 to the Regulations, as suggested by FIFA.

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About the Author

Lucio Mazzei

Lucio Mazzei is a trainee lawyer specialized in Sports Law. He graduated in Law at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy with a thesis on “The professional footballer’s contract”.

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