On 10 November 2021, FIFA (the governing body for world football) published its updated Commentary on the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (Edition 2021) (Commentary on the RSTP).
The RSTP are FIFA's rules and regulations that govern a player's status, his or her eligibility to compete in football as well as his or her transfer between clubs internationally. Last week's launch of the Commentary on the RSTP, which seeks to provide supplementary information on the RSTP, saw FIFA's President, (Gianni Infantino) and the EU Commissioner for Competition (Mario Monti) participate in the announcement of the publication indicating its high profile nature.
What does the Commentary on the RSTP say?
The Commentary on the RSTP provides further guidance on key provisions within the RSTP, such as:
- How players are to be registered following international transfers
- Provisions dealing with a relatively new regulation that seeks to prevent so called 'bridge transfers'
- When clubs and players have the right to terminate playing contracts (including for terminating for just cause, without a cause and during a season)
- How regulations dealing with third party influence and ownership of player's economic rights will be applied
- The limited exceptions as to when international transfers involving minors can take place
- The calculation and payment of training compensation and solidarity payments to clubs
The regulation of football globally has certainty expanded in scope and complexity over the years as evidenced by the fact that the last edition of the Commentary on the RSTP that was published on 18 January 2007 was 150 pages, while this latest edition runs to over 550 pages. As a result, in general the Commentary on the RSTP provides further information on the RSTP rather than concise, practical guidance for those working or involved in the area – for example, each provision of the RSTP is included and each section of commentary begins by setting out the purpose and scope of the relevant RSTP provision.
That said, the Commentary on the RSTP makes far greater (and welcome) use of, and references to, the underling case law that has been heard before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). This enables a more accessible understanding of the RSTP for relevant stakeholders. To take one such example, in relation to the general prohibition on the transfer of players under 18 (except in limited circumstances), the Commentary on the RSTP uses a string of previous cases to confirm that this restriction is interpreted strictly and that this approach by FIFA has "only been rarely challenged". It also confirms that transfers of under 18 EU/EEA passport holders from non-EU/EEA will potentially still be permissible despite the underlying wording of Article 19 of the RSTP that such transfers are not allowed unless they take place "within the territory of" the EU or EEA.
What does this mean going forward?
Whilst the Commentary on the RSTP does not reflect FIFA's or its decision-making bodies formal position on matters that may arise in future, it will be an important document for football players, clubs, leagues, national and international associations and advisers to consider and bear in mind when operating under the RSTP. This is particularly the case given that national associations and CAS arbitrators have used and referred to previous editions of the Commentary on the RSTP in the event of disputes.
Interestingly, during the launch, Mr Infantino suggested that transfer fees paid between clubs for players may soon fall under FIFA's microscope as he suggested FIFA may replace this system with mathematical calculations alongside reforms to substantially increase the compensation received by clubs as training compensation. This possible regulatory overhaul sits against the backdrop of FIFA's reforms of the football agent regulations that have been a work in progress for some time, suggesting there is more regulation in the pipeline for the footballing world.
Authors: Simon Leaf and Oliver Millichap