On 13 February 2020 (in Circular no. 1709) FIFA announced its new edition of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (FIFA RSTP) that entered into force on 1 March 2020. This new version includes important news that will affect future ‘transfer windows’ of football players. The most important change is the introduction of regulation about the so-called “bridge transfers”. This is a matter that FIFA have tried to control in the past years, without much success.
So what is a bridge transfer? According to its new definition, a bridge transfer has occurred where there are “any two consecutive transfers, national or international, of the same player connected to each other and comprising a registration of that player with the middle club to circumvent the application of the relevant regulations or laws and/or defraud another person or entity.”
In the same way, it has also been introduced in the new Article 5 bis in the Regulations. The wording of this new legal precept is the following:
“5bis Bridge transfer:
- No club or player shall be involved in a bridge transfer.
- It shall be presumed, unless established to the contrary, that if two consecutive transfers, national or international, of the same player occur within a period of 16 weeks, the parties (clubs and player) involved in those two transfers have participated in a bridge transfer.
- The FIFA Disciplinary Committee, in accordance with the FIFA Disciplinary Code, will impose sanctions on any party subject to the FIFA Statutes and regulations involved in a bridge transfer.”
As we can notice, in order to determine an effective prohibition, there is a reversal of the burden of proof which has included a presumption that, if a player is transferred two times -national or internationally- within a period of 16 weeks (more or less 4 months for the sake of covering an entire ‘transfer window’), said transfer will be considered as a bridge transfer. This is an iuris tantum presumption, so it is admitted proof to the contrary by the parties involved in order to refute this presumption and confirm the inexistence of a bridge transfer.
According to the Article 5 para. 4 of the Regulations, “Players may be registered with a maximum of three clubs during a season. During this period, the player is only eligible to play official matches for two clubs. (…)”. The main consequence of this is that bridge transfers were in a legal vacuum until the entry into force of the new edition, since there was no specific prohibition for these transfers in previous FIFA Regulations. Hence, Article 5 para. 4 of the Regulations indirectly allowed the existence of these transfers because the player transferred never participates in a match with the bridge club; he just participates in official matches with the first and the new club.
What FIFA is trying to eradicate with the inclusion of these new provisions are, over all, the transfers which the interest is purely economic and there is a clear absence of sports interest, since this type of transfers usually happen in situations where there is a big qualitative difference between the sports level of the player who is transferred and the bridge club in which the player is registered. More specifically, they are usually players with a higher sports level than the bridge club for which they sign. Then, in a short period of time, these players are transferred to a higher-level club.
The main reasons behind this type of transfers are the following:
- Possible undercover payments or salaries by the new club via the bridge club to the players or their agents.
- A reduction of fiscal charges, because the bridge clubs are used to be located in countries which taxation is more beneficial for all parties involved in the bridge transfer.
- Fraud to other people or entities, avoiding the payment of taxes that have to be paid in normal conditions.
- A reduction of the amounts to be paid in concept of training compensation and solidarity mechanism.
For many years, the competent bodies of FIFA have tried to eliminate these type of transfers, dictating resolutions against clubs and players that were involved in bridge transfers. FIFA’s resolutions legal basis is that bridge transfers contravened the principles promulgated by FIFA. Specifically, the sportiness principle, as long as the only interest in these transfers is the economic one, not the sports interest. Nevertheless this, when the parties affected by a FIFA’s resolution appealed before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAS/CAS), said decisions were set aside because of the absence of specific regulations that make these bridge transfers punishable.
From my point of view, FIFA will have to clarify more precisely the type of transfers that they want to forbid according to the new Article 5 bis of the FIFA RSTP, because, as it is known, a transfer can be both on a permanent or in a temporal basis.
The fact that FIFA starts considering that a temporary transfer (i.e. a loan agreement) also constitutes a bridge transfer would end with the practice of many clubs who buy young football players and, immediately, these players are transferred on loan to a third club. Bearing in mind the wording of the Article 5 bis and the definition of “transfer” included in the Regulations, this operation would constitute a bridge transfer, but apparently there is no economic interest in these two consecutive transfers. This is why FIFA will have to clarify their intentions.
In this respect, article 5 bis of the FIFA RSTP establishes that the FIFA Disciplinary Committee will be the competent body that will impose sanctions on those parties involved in a bridge transfer.
In light of the above, it seems that since 1 March 2020, FIFA’s principles are more secured and bridge transfers are going to be more regulated in order to enable FIFA to impose sanctions to all parties involved in this type of transfer.