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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Soccer: FIFA seeks to tame billion dollar transfer market

Associated Press Writer

ZURICH — It's a market worth $1 billion each year and involves thousands of professional players moving across borders to find new employers. And until now what little regulation existed has been confused and open to abuse, but that is about to change.

FIFA is making its new online transfer register a requirement for most leagues later this year, fundamentally altering how players ranging from Cristiano Ronaldo to unknown Latin American teens can move to new teams in different nations.

The system is remarkably easy, with clubs signed up to a Web-based network required to match the details of any international player transactions and upload proof of payment, identification of agents involved and other documents to confirm a player's new employer.

The transfer monitor has been a long time coming.

FIFA says years of poor oversight has led to rogue agents "owning" their clients and controlling their destinies, illegal payments between clubs and companies, and even money laundering through transfers of fictitious footballers — practices that FIFA hopes its new system will stamp out.

"The transfer market is one of the last places on the planet where you have billions of dollars and no one is really checking," said Mark Goddard, head of the FIFA anti-corruption program. "It has basically been a jungle with no oversight, and that is changing."

Goddard and other FIFA officials explained the system to journalists in Zurich, outlining its advances in terms of speed, accountability and clarity compared to the current confusion of paper documents and faxes that have long been the basis of international transfers.

The network went online in 2007 and most major leagues have been using it during the last couple of transfer windows. From October, over 3,000 football clubs in nearly 150 nations will be required to log the details of each player either sold or purchased in an international deal or have the transaction blocked.

World football's governing body has been eager to tighten transfer regulations after discovering that many deals involved unlicensed operators taking a commission. Its Zurich headquarters has also been deluged in paperwork during peak trading times as buying and selling clubs faxed details of their deals, sometimes with information that didn't match.

Goddard highlighted the advantages of the new system, which has already registered 4,000 transfers since 2008:

—Transfers will have to be agreed on time, with the Web-based system closing as the window for deals expires. This will help avoid the last-minute confusion that has been a source of debate in moves such as Andrei Arshavin's switch to Arsenal last year.

—Third-party "owners" of players, such as Anglo-Iranian businessman Kia Joorabchian who controls the "economic rights" to Argentine stars Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, would be unable to hold up a transfer as they seek their own compensation.

—Minors will be better protected from moving internationally without their parents' approval.

—Clubs will be able to seal transfers faster, as an English and a Scottish club proved last month by registering a deal in just seven minutes.

—Auditing will be significantly easier, as FIFA staff and national football officials can inspect deals from anywhere in the world with a simple login password.

—And transactions involving fictitious players, a common money laundering technique, will be harder to get away with as players' identities would first need to be established.

"The system was designed specifically with money laundering in mind," Goddard said. "Anecdotal evidence tells us that it is probably quite a massive problem. We know of transfers of imaginary players by third parties and other groups using football in order to wash it and turn dirty money into legitimate funds."

Teams found breaking the rules will be punished, Goddard said. FIFA will monitor transfers, he added, but declined to say how many staff and how much money it would devote to tracking down cheats.

For all its benefits, the register will not apply to transfers among clubs in the same nation, and details of transactions will not be shared with the public.

"This is not a silver bullet that will solve everything," Goddard said. "But we want to make sure that it is the clubs that get the money, and most importantly that it is the football value of the player that is being bought, not his marketing or commercial value that is being sold through third parties."