KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- World football dons its black tie and tails and best frocks for the FIFA Awards Gala in Zurich to celebrate another year of high-visibility drama on and off the pitch.
One award not up for grabs, however, is for Un-Fair Play of the Year.
Many contenders exist. But one glaring one, given that FIFA’s mission is to promote the development of the game, should go surely to Mohamed Muzammil of Singapore.
Muzammil was the single judge of the players’ status sub-committee who stands guilty twice over of the clumsily deliberate prevention of a teenager playing the game he loves.
In serving, to the pedantically precise letter, regulations intended to prevent the trafficking of minors Muzammil brought down the FIFA sledgehammer known as Article 19 not on a money-grubbing agent, an avaricious manager or over-stuffed club but on an innocent English teenager named Brendan Norris.
This was not a case such as that of Zahir Belounis, an adult who knew precisely where he was going when he accepted Qatari gold in exchange for a subscription to the kafala employment system.
In the case of Belounis FIFA had only a passing interest. But in the case of Norris it had a direct involvement and thus Muzammil stands guilty in the International Court of Commonsense.
Norris moved continents when his father Mike’s work brought him from Canada to England with Twinings in January 2012. Brendan had had a trial with Kingston FC of the CSL in Ontario, Canada and had been in contact with several English clubs such as Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers and Bristol City.
As his family settled in England Brendan considered educational options such as sports studies at Sparsholt College in Hampshire – which has links to Premier League Southampton – and went looking for a game of football.
However . . . having played youth football in Canada, he was registered with the Canadian Soccer Association. To register with the FA he required an international transfer from FIFA to be fully eligible for the BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) sport diploma course.
Despite holding British citizenship – since father Mike is English – FIFA refused the initial application from the Football Association for an International Transfer Certificate. Brendan could play for his college team within the schools system but was barred from participating in games in the South West Counties or Conference Youth Alliance Leagues of which the college teams were members.
He could not even play in non-professional Sunday league football.
The Football Association was little help. Neither was the then British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson despite the clear conflict with government policy of encouraging youth participation in sport for its health and social benefits.
Hence Norris prepared a case for the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The Court of Human Rights might have been more appropriate.
Lost educational time
In the meantime, after losing almost a year, Brendan celebrated his 18th birthday last December and is now free of FIFA red tape. However he has lost opportunities at a delicate stage of his education and the family may yet pursue the CAS route because of the legal issues which remain outstanding.
Father Mike said: “At every stage we came up against a brick wall. The rulings made no sense. At first we thought it was a mistake but it became ever more frustrating as FIFA refused to reverse its initial decision.
“The FIFA rules were meant to prevent big clubs bringing minors in from developing countries then putting them on the street with no support when they failed to make it.
“If we had even been able to sit down and discuss this, it would have been something. But no-one in FIFA would even do that. No-one explained the grounds for the refusals. How can Brendan, a UK citizen, not be allowed to play football in what is his own country?”
Norris conceded that the head of FIFA’s players’ status department, Omar Ongaro, while supporting Muzammil’s decision, recognised there were ‘grey area’ issues.
But, as Brendan himself, said: “I just don’t get it . . . so many other players from around the world get to come here to play football so why stop me? It’s not fair play.”
According to art. 19 par. 1 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (hereinafter: the Regulations), international transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18. However, there are three exceptions (cf. art. 19 par. 2 of the Regulations).
With regards to the matter referred to, two separate applications have been made by the Football Association (FA) for the approval prior to the request for the International Transfer Certificate of the minor player, Brendan Garrett Norris.
The first application of the FA was based on the exception outlined in art. 19 par. 2 a) of the Regulations, “The player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located for reasons not linked to football.”
Based on the documentation provided at the time, this application was rejected by the Single Judge of the sub-committee appointed by the Players’ Status Committee and the grounds for this decision were finally not requested.
The second application of the FA was based on the exception outlined in art. 19 par. 2 b) of the Regulations, “The transfer takes place within the territory of the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA) and the player is aged between 16 and 18.”
In such a case, the exception is only granted if the new club fulfils a number of minimum obligations as outlined in art. 19 par. 2 b) of the Regulations. On 19 August 2013, the Single Judge of the sub-committee appointed by the Players’ Status Committee decided to reject the application of the FA. The concerned parties have been notified of the grounds of the decision.
It is important to note that the protection of minors is one of the fundamental principles of the Regulations.
Therefore, only by strict and proper application of the appropriate provisions and exceptions can it be guaranteed that the protection of minor players is not compromised.
As such, a strict interpretation of the conditions contained in art. 19 par. 1 and 2 in conjunction with art. 19 par. 4 of the Regulations is necessary.