BARCELONA have been hit with a year-long transfer ban for breaching Fifa rules on the international transfer of minors – but appeal rules should mean the club can still bring in players this summer.
The Spanish champions have been sanctioned by Fifa’s disciplinary committee for breaking the rules in the case of 10 under-18 players, and been punished with a transfer embargo for two transfer windows and a fine of 450,000 Swiss francs (£305,000).
Barcelona have three days in which to lodge an appeal, which is likely to be heard before the end of April and, if they lose that, then they can take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Those court proceedings would not likely take place until August, and the transfer embargo would be suspended until the final decision.
Fifa has also fined the Spanish FA 500,000 Swiss francs (£340,000) for rule breaches in terms of registering the players.
The sanctions have highlighted the practices of clubs scouring the world for young talent and taking children from their home countries, in defiance of Fifa’s rules.
Barcelona currently have a trio of youth players from South Korea, including much sought-after 15-year-old striker Lee Seung Woo, plus other players from Africa.
Fifa only allows international youth transfers when one of three situations apply. Either the player’s parents have moved country for their own, non-related reasons, the move takes place within the European Union if a player is aged between 16 and 18 or the player’s home is less than 50 kilometres from the national border being crossed.
Barcelona’s expected appeal should allow the deals for Croatian 17-year-old Alen Halilovic, who turns 18 in June, and Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who has been heavily linked with a move to the Nou Camp, to go through.
The sanctions follow investigations conducted by Fifa’s transfer matching system officials into under-18 players who were registered and participated in competitions with the club between 2009 and 2013.
Fifa said in a statement: “FC Barcelona has been found to be in breach of article 19 of the regulations in the case of 10 minor players and to have committed several other concurrent infringements in the context of other players.
“The disciplinary committee regarded the infringements as serious and decided to sanction the club with a transfer ban at both national and international level for two complete and consecutive transfer periods, together with a fine of 450,000 Swiss francs.
“Additionally, the club was granted a period of 90 days in which to regularise the situation of all minor players concerned.
“The committee highlighted that while international transfers might, in specific cases, be favourable to a young player’s sporting career, they are very likely to be contrary to the best interests of the player as a minor.
“Young football players are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in a foreign country without the proper controls. This particular fact makes the protection of minors in football by the sport’s governing bodies, especially by Fifa, even more important.”
The Spanish FA, which violated article 19 of the regulations regarding the first registration of the players, has been given a period of one year in which to “regularise their regulatory framework and existing system concerning the international transfer of minors in football”.
The international players’ union FIFPro said “trafficking of minors” was a direct consequence of football’s “fundamentally flawed transfer system”.
A FIFPro statement said: “FIFPro notes the abuse and trafficking of minors relates directly to football’s fundamentally flawed transfer system which the World Footballers’ Association is challenging on every level to reform. Heavy sanctions handed out today to the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and one of the country’s premier clubs, FC Barcelona, highlight a key issue – the protection of minors – which FIFPro places high on the agenda as it explores all legal avenues to tackle practices which hurt the players and damage the sport.”