On 3 December 2020, the Italian Football Association ('FIGC') published the long-awaited new 'Regulation on Sport Agents'.
This FIGC regulation is just the tip of the iceberg in the attempt to reform and simplify the sports intermediaries' sector in Italy. This is one step in the right direction, but will most likely require further steps by the relevant authorities.
By way of brief background, the Italian reform on sports agents stems from Law 205/2017 ('Budget Law 2018') whereby the Italian legislator issued, for the first time, a set of statutory rules governing the sports agents' sector (see here for more details). This was followed by the issuance, by both FIGC and the Italian Olympic Committee ('CONI'), of their respective regulations on the sports intermediaries' sector.
On 24 February, 2020, the Italian Government enacted a new decree which, yet again, amended the provisions governing the qualification and registration of sports agents in Italy, thus paving the way for another reform of CONI's and FIGC's rules (click here for more details).
Accordingly, on 14 May 2020, CONI published a new regulation on sports agents (currently in force), so as to update and ensure compatibility with the above Government decree ('CONI Regulation'). Lastly, on 3 December 2020, i.e. just prior to year-end and the start of the next transfer window, FIGC also updated their rules replacing those in force since 10 June 2019 ('FIGC Regulation' and jointly with the CONI Regulation, the 'Italian Regulations').
The reform made a U-turn compared with previous sports agents' regulations. The main change was the introduction of a licensing system, which is obtained if the sports agent passes a two-fold exam: one held by CONI, and one by each sports association (e.g. FIGC). Subject to meeting specific integrity requirements, the exam is open to Italian, EU and non-EU citizens with regular residency permits. However, passing the exam may prove an uphill road for foreign agents, as the exam is in Italian and focused mainly on civil and administrative law, in addition to sports law topics. Subject to passing the CONI and FIGC exams, the sports agent may apply for registration on a register of sports agents managed by CONI as well as on the register held by each sports association.
CONI and FIGC have 20 and 30 days, respectively, to accept or decline the registration application.
In the light of the above, how does this new overall legal framework affect foreign sports agents and, in particular, football agents seeking to act in Italy? In brief,
(i) EU and non-EU qualified agents who have passed the FIFA exam that was in force up until 2015 (i.e. until the – much debated – 'deregulation' of FIFA), are considered 'equivalent' to agents who have passed the Italian exam.
(ii) Agents qualified as sports agents in another EU member state, may operate in Italy only if certain conditions are met, such as, among others, having passed an examination that the FIGC and CONI Regulations define equivalent to the Italian exam. However, to date CONI only considers the exam held in France as equivalent to the Italian one. Accordingly, at present only French-qualified agents may apply to FIGC and CONI for registration within their respective (so-called) 'established agents section'.
(iii) EU-qualified foreign agents who have not an equivalent examination (i.e. other than the French-qualified agents) may carry out transactions in Italy only by means of (i) executing an agreement defined as 'domiciliazione' (as better described below) or, at the agent's choice, (ii) completing an 'accreditation' process, which can be either an ad-hoc double examination or an internship program of 3 years and consisting of a 300-hour per year working period in cooperation with an agent duly registered in Italy. The Italian Regulations do not provide details of the 'accreditation' process.
(iv) Non EU-qualified agents, instead, may only operate in Italy by executing the above-mentioned 'domiciliazione' agreement.
(v) The 'domiciliazione' represents one of the most marked differences between the previous rules and the updated Italian Regulations. The cooperation agreement, whereby an agent duly registered in Italy will act as the foreign agent's proxy, must be entered into prior to the relevant employment or transfer agreement and lodged with the FIGC and CONI. Furthermore, the cooperation agreement shall be limited to a single transaction and to a maximum 1-year term.
(vi) Remarkably, the 'domiciliazione' is only provided for individuals. Accordingly, foreign agents willing to register their company in Italy they may do so only if they meet the requirements under (i) to (iii) above.
(vii) Any representation agreement entered into by any club or player with an agent who is not duly registered with CONI and FIGC, will result in the agreement being null and void.
(viii) Another interesting feature of the Italian Regulations is the reform of the registration period of sports agents, which, pursuant to the CONI Regulation revised in 2020 is based on the calendar year, i.e. the agent's registration expires on 31 December regardless of the effective date of registration.
In a nutshell, the Italian Regulations have been met with mixed reactions from the industry, in spite of the fact that, in anticipation of the much awaited FIFA reform of the current Intermediaries Regulations, they have established a solid legal framework for sports agents. However, from the foreign agents' perspective, the (rather complex and time-consuming) registration requirements and process risk impairing or even preventing the players' transfers meant to take place in the final part of the transfer window. Reportedly, the Italian Regulations reform is not yet settled, therefore there is more to come, hopefully including a reasonable relaxation of the foreign agents' registration process.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.