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If you haven’t heard the news:

Barcelona have been banned from making any signings for two consecutive transfer windows, as FIFA announced Wednesday that the Spanish club is being punished for breaching its rules relating to the transfer of players under the age of 18.

You can read the ruling in its entirety here.

Background

FIFA has a set of rules that clubs must respect on the transfer of players, Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players. These regulations include, in Article 19, a conditional ban on the international transfer of players aged 18 and younger.

Basically, FIFA forbids international transfers of kids under 18 unless a) their parents move to the country for reasons “not linked to football,” b) the transfer takes place in the EU or EEA for a player between 16 and 18, and meets some stringent requirements and c) the player lives no further than 50 kms from the border of the home association.

Ostensibly to help enforce these rules, in 2007 the 57th FIFA congress established an online registry for all clubs to electronically submit for approval all international transfers called the Transfer Matching System. One its central purposes:

The objectives were to increase integrity and transparency in the market by increasing data available to football authorities on every transaction and to enforce rules on the protection of minors.

Exploitation of Minors

The Article 19 provisions were established to prevent minors from being exploited by unscrupulous clubs and agents. In some cases, families will pay unscrupulous agents tens of thousands of dollars only to end up stranded and without proper work papers in far off foreign countries. While these are extreme examples, generally FIFA’s provisions ensure that minors don’t move halfway around the world only to be dropped form the team and the family left stranded in a foreign country and unable to work. No doubt foreign governments appreciate this, too, as it prevents undocumented families from showing up on a hope and a prayer.

Barca’s case

In February 2013, FIFA instructed Barcelona they could not select six players for the youth teams as they were signed in violation of Article 19:

French boy Theo Chendri, Koreans Lee Seung Woo, Paik Seung-Ho and Jang Gyeolhee, 14 year old Nigerian-Dutch Bobby Adekanye and Cameroonian Patrice Sousia.

The ruling caught Barca by surprise.

Today’s Disciplinary ruling today indicates the number of violations in fact includes 10 players. These minors were signed between 2009 and 2013. Submissions to FIFA’s TMS system became mandatory for all clubs in 2009. The blog FC Legal wrote on the matter at the time, and made an excellent observation:

Presumably, given that the players in question have played in FC Barcelona’s youth team for some time, their registrations were initially approved by FIFA’s Player’s Status Committee via the TMS otherwise Barcelona and the Spanish Football Association are in breach of Article 19 Paragraph 4. It is, therefore, possible that FIFA have obtained further information to make them suspect violation of Article 19 hence the directive to not select the players until they investigate the matter further.

Barcelona is likely to appeal to the court of arbitration for sport.

What we don’t know

If FC Legal is correct (and it would seem they would have to be unless Barca were VERY BAD and skipped registration altogether), then why did FIFA initially allow these transfers, only to later judge their signing violated Article 19? Was it a bureaucratic delay? Or did TMS go back into investigate and notice something was up? Those details haven’t yet emerged (or I can’t find them). It could be that parents offered false reasons for moving, for one. At first glance, this would appear to be the most ambiguous qualification for an acceptable international transfer.

Was the TMS not established to prevent this infraction before it took place? Or am I missing something?