South African authorities take aim at player agents

Rivaldo Coetzee left Ajax Cape Town for Mamelodi Sundowns during the most recent transfer window Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

South Africa's football agents have come under fire from the country's Competition Commission, but have vowed to fight for their right to choose their own remuneration for work carried out in the country.

The Competition Commission announced on Tuesday that the body that represents the majority of the country's agents, the South African Football Intermediaries Association (SAFIA), and 37 of its members would be prosecuted for the fixing of commission and trading conditions.

After an investigation, the Commission allege that the agents had colluded to fix their commissions at 10 percent for player and coach contracts with clubs, and 20 percent when sealing sponsorships for their clients.

The 37 agents and agencies named in the probe allegedly did this under the banner of SAFIA, and the Competition Commission say this is in contravention of their Act and essentially price-fixing.

"In referring the matter to the tribunal for prosecution, the Commission is seeking an order declaring that SAFIA and its members contravened the Competition Act. The Commission also wants SAFIA and its members to cease from engaging in this conduct and similar conduct in future," the Competition Commission said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Further, the Commission is seeking an order declaring that each of the 37 parties be held liable for the payment of the maximum fine allowable in terms of the Competition Act."

Mike Makaab, one of South Africa's leading agents who heads up ProSport International, said SAFIA will fight the prosecution as they do not believe they are in the wrong.

"It is something that has been brewing, but there is nothing for me to say [at this point]; the matter is being handled by our legal team," Makaab told KweséESPN.

Paul Mitchell from Siyavuma Sports also declined to comment and referred KweséESPN to another veteran of the South African agency scene, Glyn Binkin, who handles media relations for SAFIA.

At the time of writing Binkin had not responded to requests for comment.

SAFIA have, to some extent, had the tables turned on them and will now rely on the courts to allow the agents to continue to operate as they have been.

The saga began when the South African Football Association (SAFA) made a May 2015 announcement that agents should earn no more than three percent commission on deals done with players and coaches.

SAFIA successfully challenged this in the South African courts and won an interdict to stop the move going ahead. A few months later they approached the Competition Commission to investigate SAFA over the three percent commission, which SAFIA claimed is in itself an attempt at price-fixing.

The Competition Commission decided not to prosecute SAFA and instead took aim at SAFIA, beginning an investigation in December 2015 that has now, almost two years later, been completed.

"SAFIA and its members agreed to charge soccer players and coaches a standard 10 percent commission fee when negotiating and concluding, on their behalf, new contracts, transfer contracts, and renewal contracts with football clubs," the Competition Commission statement continued.

"They also charge football players and coaches a standard 20 percent commission fee when negotiating and concluding, on their behalf, new commercial contracts and renewal of those contracts with sponsors. They use SAFIA as a platform for collusion."

SAFA say they came up with their three percent remuneration figure by following FIFA guidelines on the issue, though it is not quite as straightforward as that.

FIFA say the three percent figure only applies if the player and the agent cannot agree an amount between themselves.

"If the players' agent and the player cannot reach agreement on the amount of remuneration to be paid or if the representation contract does not provide for such remuneration, the players' agent is entitled to payment of compensation amounting to three per cent of the basic income," FIFA's Regulations for Players' Agents says.

A protracted legal battle is now ahead for all parties involved, with many agents previously saying the three percent figure would put them out of business.