Could you introduce yourself and your background?
I am a lawyer in sports law and labour law, registered at Aix en Provence bar. I was sworn in 2012 and practised as an employment lawyer for three years in France before joining FIFA as a legal advisor in the Players’ Status Department. At the end of 2017, I decided to leave FIFA to open my own law firm in France. I work on a daily basis with sports agents, professional and amateur athletes, coaches and clubs, and I also assist companies and employees.
Why did you leave FIFA to resume your work as a lawyer?
In the FIFA Players’ Status Department, we were mainly involved at the litigation stage, i.e. when there was already a dispute between the parties, either between two clubs or between clubs and players or coaches. As a lawyer, we have the opportunity to assist the various parties involved in the world of sport before any dispute arises, and to try to reach an amicable solution. Thus, the lawyer’s mission of advice also takes on its full meaning before the litigation phase, which can very often be avoided. I am passionate about this stage, where the lawyer and the client work side by side to find the most suitable solutions for the given situation. Furthermore, I have the opportunity to practice my profession mainly in football, but also in a wide range of sports, some of which are not well known, which makes my day-to-day work all the more exciting.
Could you explain to us the activity of a sports lawyer?
In view of recent court decisions and the forthcoming reform of the status and regulations relating to sports agents, the status of sports agent lawyer is destined to be profoundly modified. Therefore, I think that we should wait until the coming months to discuss the precise future of the sports agent lawyer activity.
To come back to the question raised, the status was initially created to allow lawyers to represent, in their capacity as agents, one of the parties interested in the conclusion of one of the contracts mentioned in the first paragraph of Article L. 222-7 of the French Sports Code, i.e. an employment contract concluded between a player and a club, while being bound by the deontology imposed on lawyers in France with the limits that this profession has in order to protect clients.
On 2 September 2019, FIFA introduced the Pro Bono Counsel program, could you explain it to us?
This is a form of legal aid for parties who would not have the financial means to be represented or assisted by a lawyer in a dispute before one of FIFA’s arbitration chambers, in particular before the Disciplinary Committee, the Ethics Committee or the Appeal Committee. It is therefore not possible at this stage for a party to be accompanied by a pro bono counsel before all FIFA chambers. The purpose of this system is to allow a party to have access to legal representation without incurring fees. In order to benefit from this system, a detailed request must be sent to FIFA, which, on the basis of the documents submitted, determines whether the applicant is eligible for pro bono advice. Once the FIFA administration decides to grant the applicant this assistance, the list of Pro Bono lawyers is issued by FIFA.
21 law firms were selected by FIFA from all over the world on the basis of their respective experience in sports law and languages.
As a reminder, the 4 official languages of FIFA are: English, German, Spanish and French.
What motivated you to join this program ?
My experience at FIFA convinced me that such a programme can be really useful. When I was a lawyer at FIFA I saw that many people in sport, especially players, have no notions at all in the legal field . Indeed, not everyone can afford the day-to-day support of a sports lawyer and/or agent who has the legal knowledge to resolve a contentious situation. Many footballers and coaches, and many football stakeholders, have low salaries. The percentage of footballers who make a very good living is actually very small. The fact that the highest earners in football are the most publicised makes it difficult to see this reality.
However, a large proportion of football players and coaches do not have the financial means to be assisted by a lawyer in the event of a dispute. This is why I wanted to participate in this programme when it was introduced in 2019. This model was already in place, in other forms, at CAS and UEFA, so it was appropriate for FIFA to implement such a programme.
Why is this programme limited to disputes before the Disciplinary, Ethics and Appeals Committee? Is it intended to apply to all disputes attributed to FIFA?
I do not have an answer to this question. Only FIFA can answer it. My personal opinion is that this could be envisaged in the long term. The implementation of such a programme is already a great step forward.
How many cases have been dealt with under the programme?
Three to our knowledge.
How can this figure be explained?
Perhaps the information about this programme is too confidential and few players are aware of it. However, the FIFA website mentions the existence of the programme. The fact that the programme was launched just before the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly one reason why the programme is still somewhat unknown.
What did FIFA do to enable the development of the programme?
Initially, all the selected lawyers received an initial training. Another training seminar was recently held, and the publicity that FIFA gives to these workshops helps to highlight the existence of this programme.
In order for the message to reach the beneficiaries of the programme, who are mainly players and coaches, wouldn’t it be appropriate for the publicity to be done by the federations, clubs or unions?
Absolutely. All the administrations have a role to play, especially the national federations. It is certain that publicity around this programme at the level of each national association would help to promote the Pro Bono Counsel programme. Now the question is, will a player or a coach, when he has a dispute, go to the federation’s website? I’m not sure either.
The law firms appointed by FIFA have also decided to publicise the existence of the system on LinkedIn and other information channels, in order to promote the programme further.
What is the procedure for footballers and coaches to benefit from the programme?
Simply go to the FIFA website, and it should be noted that the site is now very complete and allows access to the various steps for filing complaints, etc. To access the programme, simply type « Pro Bono Counsel FIFA » in the search bar and you will be taken directly to the relevant page. Everything is very well explained, to the point that there is an e-mail address to which to send the various documents proving the resources of the party wishing to benefit from the programme.
Does FIFA have any power to intervene in the procedures carried out under this programme?
No. Like the legal aid system, the lawyer appointed as Pro Bono Counsel is only accountable to his client. If he assists and represents a party, he does so in strict confidence.
Do you have a think tank between the appointed lawyers and FIFA?
We have regular exchanges between members of the group as well as with FIFA, yes.
Any last words?
The aim is to allow as many people as possible to benefit from the Pro Bono Counsel programme, and I hope that this interview will help to make it even more visible.
*Interview realized before the 7th of June 2022.