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SBD Global/April 3, 2014/Franchises

Barcelona Faces Ban On Signing Players Until '15 Over Allegations Of Illegal Int'l Transfers

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FIFA has imposed a transfer ban on Barcelona.
FIFA's Disciplinary Committee has punished Barcelona and the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) for "breaching several provisions" concerning the int'l transfer and first registration of "non-Spanish minors with the club," according to MARCA. The club is sanctioned with "not being allowed to buy players for the next two transfer windows (June 2014 and January 2015) and will also have to pay" a €370,000 ($509,000) fine. A FIFA investigation showed that Barcelona "had violated various provisions related to the transfer and first registration of non-Spanish minors as well as other infringements in the context of other players in national competitions." FIFA defined these occurrences as "serious infringements." They affect 10 signings that took place from '09-13. Barça has a period of 90 days to regularize the "situation of all the underage players affected." Regarding the RFEF, FIFA's Disciplinary Committee determined that it violated article 19 of FIFA's regulations and "other provisions relative to the transfer and first registration of certain underage players." The RFEF has "therefore been sanctioned with a fine" of €410,000 ($564,000) and has been given a year in which to regularize its "regulatory framework" (MARCA, 4/2).

CLUB REACTS: MARCA reported Barcelona is "not happy about the sanction imposed by FIFA." Barcelona "received the news with bewilderment," because it believes that, "beyond footballing issues, the club does a great job of teaching the children academically at its La Masia residence." A Barcelona spokesperson said, "We are a global reference in this sphere." It "all started as a result of two anonymous reports made to FIFA" (MARCA, 4/2). Barcelona released a statement regarding the allegations. The club will be presenting the corresponding appeal to FIFA and should it be necessary, it will take the resulting resolution to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The club will also demand the relevant interim measures needed to preserve its rights, including those allowing it to sign players in transfer windows. Among the 14 points Barcelona made in its statement, it said the regulations which have allegedly been infringed are aimed at protecting underage players from clubs which sign youngsters without guaranteeing the educational care and training rights -- which Barcelona develops under the La Masia model. The La Masia model incorporates academic training, providing residence and pastoral care, as well as health care specifically for underage needs and sports development. It puts creating rounded people ahead of creating sportspeople, something which has not been taken into consideration by FIFA, which has applied sanctions criteria that ignores the nature of our training program. Since the FIFA investigation began, the federation licenses of the players involved were withdrawn and they have not played in any further official games. There has been no unregulated participation on their part. Barcelona has not failed to fulfill any civil legislation and all the underage players who are in their training centers are legal residents of the country. Those players whose federation licenses FIFA has annulled have been given the opportunity of staying with Barcelona. Despite their inability to play, Barcelona maintains its commitment to them to avoid any social difficulties for them. In Catalonia alone, there are an estimated 15,000 underage players born outside of Spain and registered with their federation who, according to criteria used in this case by FIFA, would have to be considered in a similarly unauthorized state (Barcelona).

'SHATTERING' NEWS: The BBC's Andy West wrote "this is a shattering piece of news for a club that had already endured a very difficult season off the pitch following allegations of tax evasion around the signing of Neymar." Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu can "expect overwhelming pressure from fans to call new presidential elections as soon as possible." The impact on Barcelona is "also hugely significant." With captain Carles Puyol and goalkeeper Victor Valdes leaving at the end of the season, the club had "already announced their intention to splash out on top-class replacements." It is also "yet another massive blow to Barca's previously much-respected global brand, which has taken a huge battering in the last few months" (BBC, 4/2). In London, Roger Blitz wrote Barcelona's "self-proclaimed image as one of the most reputable sports clubs in the world has been dealt a serious blow." Barcelona's "més que un club" -- more than a club -- motto "underlines its belief that it is a special sporting entity with deep roots in its Catalan culture and community" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 4/2).

CHELSEA, NANTES PRECEDENTS: MARCA reported the CAS "turned over a one-year transfer ban handed out to Chelsea" in '10 by FIFA for the signing of French youngster Gael Kakuta. It was the "same punishment imposed" on Barcelona for "breaching rules on the transfer of players aged under 18." In that case, Chelsea was "accused of forcing the player to break his contract with his previous club, Lens." In "the end, CAS heard that the supposed contract the player had with Lens was not valid and so had no hesitation in overturning the decision passed down by the game's governing body" (MARCA, 4/2). LIBERTAD DIGITAL reported Barcelona is "studying what happened with other clubs" like Chelsea and Ligue 1 side Nantes. Nantes' case "was different" from what happened with Chelsea. It received a one-year transfer ban for urging Ismael Bangoura to break his contract with Al Nasr. The Dubai club's complaint "resulted in Bangoura and Nantes" jointly having to pay Al Nasr €4.5M ($6.2M) (LIBERTAD DIGITAL, 4/2).

ORIGIN OF COMPLAINTS: In Barcelona, Marcos López reported Seung Woo Lee, a South Korean forward who turned 16 in January, "seems to be the origin of the FIFA sanctions." He does not "meet any of the three points of article 19 of the FIFA regulations, which includes exemptions to its rules regarding players younger than 18: 1 -- parents of a player moving to the country where a club is located for non-football reasons, 2 -- transfers from within Europe if the player is between the ages of 16 and 18 and 3 -- if the player lived less than 100km from the club." FIFA warned Barcelona in early '13 of "irregularities in the signing of Woo Lee." In March, "everything seemed solved when Lee signed his first professional contract with Barcelona after having reached the juvenile age." The 10 signings for which Barcelona faces sanctions "also include South Koreans Paik Seung-Ho and Jang Gyeolhee, Theo Chendri of France, Bobby Adekanye -- a Nigerian with a Dutch passport -- and five players from Cameroon: Patrice Sousia and four who have not been identified" (EL PERIODICO, 4/2).

EXPLAINING THE TMS: EL PAIS reported the investigation into Barcelona was started by FIFA's Transfer Matching System, which was created in '07 to "prosecute" possible irregularities in int'l signings. After a trial period, the TMS became active in Oct. '10 with the "intention of protecting young footballers and enforcing greater transparency" regarding clubs' int'l operations. The TMS has "established an electronic system for all clubs that want to sign international players." Also, "to protect minors, signing requests have to be approved by a subcommittee and clubs have to present various documents (from four to nine), including, for example, employment contracts from the parents of the minor" (EL PAIS, 4/2).

'DISPROPORTIONATE' SANCTION: In Barcelona, Francesc Aguilar wrote FIFA sanctioned Barcelona "saying that it takes very seriously the protection of minors in football." Well, "this is exactly what Barcelona does with La Masia, which has produced Lionel Messi and others that were at his side like Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández." The "harsh sanction on Barcelona does not make sense." FIFA "is seeming to ask clubs to continue to cheat." The legislation "was made to prevent trafficking of minors, particularly from Africa and South America." Following "this regulation strictly, Lionel Messi would not have signed with Barcelona." The club "had to employ [Lionel's father] Jorge Messi as a club scout." What "should it do now?" Give "jobs to parents of kids who do not meet the regulations?" What "Barcelona cannot avoid, once again, is the problem of where the complaint came from, in this case it was anonymous because FIFA did not want to identify the author, although in Barcelona there are clear indications of the source of the complaint." A "bad agreement is preferable to a good trial." Now Barcelona will "appeal, and possibly, it will reach the CAS -- hopefully Barcelona has more luck than Nantes" (MUNDO DEPORTIVO, 4/2).

DFL WELCOMES SANCTIONS: The SID reported high-ranking officials of the German Football League (DFL) “have welcomed FIFA’s punishment of Barcelona for breaking ‘child trafficking’ laws.” DFL Managing Dir Andreas Rettig said, “Regardless of the club which has been punished, I welcome that FIFA takes the protection of minors serious and combats the excess of international transfers of players under the age of 18” (SID, 4/2).
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