FIFA Said to Want Limit on Soccer Player Rights Investment

FIFA supports allowing investors to buy players’ transfer rights in some cases, putting soccer’s ruling body at odds with European officials who want a total ban, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation.

Cash-strapped European clubs have sold stakes in as many as 1,100 soccer players, according to a report by auditor KPMG Europe LLP’s Spanish unit. In Brazil, the host of next year’s World Cup, investors have stakes in about 90 percent of top division players.

FIFA may propose limiting clubs to the sale of stakes in three players, with investors restricted to purchases in two countries, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the talks are ongoing. FIFA will present formal proposals at its June Congress in Sao Paulo, and has commissioned two studies into the scale and effect of so-called third-party ownership.

“As this is an ongoing process, please understand that we cannot anticipate any possible outcomes or comment further at this stage,” FIFA said in an e-mailed statement.

European body UEFA and its president Michel Platini want a total ban, which already exists in soccer’s richest competition, England’s Premier League. Richard Scudamore, Premier League chief executive, said in March that selling player-transfer stakes is similar to “indentured slavery” and that it raised the risk of match-fixing.

Global Prohibition

“I will fight to change this situation as we cannot accept that players are owned by an agent or an entity,” Platini told reporters two days ago in Bilbao, Spain. “We are going to fight to change the system in which investment funds are having a greater role. FIFA says it is studying the issue, but if it does not decide, we will. We cannot accept that players are owned by financial institutions.”

A ban could severely damage several clubs in Portugal, Spain and Latin America because their economic models are based on receiving funding in exchange for transfer rights, according to the person familiar with the talks.

In April, a group of teams from Brazil’s top league wrote to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, urging the soccer leader not to outlaw a practice that started in South America in the 1990s before spreading to Europe.

Widespread Practice

The UEFA proposal “could impact the finances of the Brazilian and South American clubs negatively, as well as the flow of the international transfers of players between South America and Europe,” the teams said in the letter.

Investors’ combined stakes in European-based talent are worth as much as 1.1 billion euros ($1.5 billion), or 5.7 percent of the regional transfer market’s value, according to KPMG.

Its report, commissioned by the European Club Association, said soccer should investigate relations between player agents and investors, and start an international database of the investments.

The practice is widespread in 10 eastern European countries -- where investors hold about 40 percent of the market value of league players -- and is increasing in Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, the report added.

Javier Tabas, president of Spain’s soccer league, said in November he’d like to see more funds enter the market there to provide competition to the likes of market leader Doyen Sports, part of London-based Doyen Group.

“I’m very much in favor of this,” Tebas said in a seminar at the league’s offices in Madrid. “It allows us to organize debt and make our clubs more competitive.”

Tabas’s sentiment runs counter to UEFA’s. The European soccer body said last year it would ban teams from its Champions and Europa League competitions with third-party relationships by 2015 should FIFA take no action.

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