By Harry Bambury, Mills-Reeve, Solicitors, Birmingham, United Kingdom
The International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS) recently announced the establishment of the Football Legal Aid Fund (FLAF), a legal aid fund specifically available for parties to football-related disputes before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
In force as from 1 February 2023, the FLAF is the first such fund to be dedicated exclusively to football-related matters.
How will FLAF work?
The FLAF will be solely funded by FIFA by way of an annual contribution. Funds may be made available from the FLAF to any natural person, including an agent licenced by FIFA, without the financial resources to proceed before the CAS.
Matters in which legal aid is granted from the FLAF shall be decided by a sole arbitrator from the specialized CAS Football List, who will perform their role on a pro bono basis.
The FLAF will operate in conjunction with the existing CAS Legal Aid regime (which provides a pro bono legal counsel system, in order to guarantee that individuals are represented in their CAS disputes.
What will FLAF cover?
Legal aid granted from the FLAF will be used to cover any Court Office Fee as well as other administrative or procedural costs associated with proceeding before CAS. When operating alongside the CAS Legal Aid regime, funds made available from FLAF will cover travel and accommodation costs of the applicant party as well as those of pro bono counsel, witnesses, experts and interpreters.
Whilst the FLAF is primarily aimed at assisting individuals, once per calendar year legal aid from the FLAF will also be made available to football clubs affiliated to a member association of FIFA belonging to category IV of the FIFA categorization of clubs for training compensation. A club seeking to obtain legal aid from the FLAF must provide written evidence that its financial situation does not permit it to cover any arbitration costs.
How will the FLAF impact agents?
Article 7 of the Guidelines on Legal Aid before the Court of Arbitration for Sport provides that:
“…Legal Aid from the FLAF may be granted to any natural persons, including agents provided that they have a FIFA licence, without sufficient means to proceed at the CAS.” (Emphasis added).
This brings into sharp focus the newly introduced FIFA Football Agent Regulations (FFAR). A key aspect of the FFAR was the introduction of a mandatory licencing system for football agents, aimed at guaranteeing minimum professional and ethical standards across the football agent occupation.
Only agents who have obtained a FIFA licence will be able to obtain legal aid from the FLAF.
The way in which an agent may obtain a licence will depend upon whether they were formerly licenced according to a previous iteration of the FFAR (introduced in 1991, 1995, 2001 or 2008) and able to prove that they were registered as an intermediary or were owner, director or employee of a company registered as an Intermediary at a member association between 1 April 2015 and the date of the approval of the FFAR (16 December 2022).
Former licenced agents will be able to follow a ‘Legacy Agent’ path in order to obtain a new FIFA licence, whilst new agents will need to pass the newly introduced football agent exam conducted by FIFA. Both a Legacy Agent and a new agent will also need to meet the necessary eligibility criteria.
With legal aid under the FLAF only available to licenced agents, it is all the more important that individuals operating as football agents should ensure that they take steps to obtain a licence under the new FFAR.
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