Call to ban football nursery fees gains political support, but clubs remain reluctant

Parliamentary secretary for sports Chris Agius, Sport Malta chairman Luciano Busuttil insist parents should not be made to compensate football clubs when their children change teams • PN Whip David Agius calls for sports tribunal to settle such disputes

Around 2,000 people have so far signed the MFPA’s petition to stop the commodification of young players
Around 2,000 people have so far signed the MFPA’s petition to stop the commodification of young players

A petition demanding the end to the state of play in which parents are made financially to compensate football clubs when their children move to other teams has been backed by both the parliamentary secretary for sports and the chairman of Sport Malta. 

MaltaToday is informed that a couple of football clubs have also expressed behind closed doors their distaste at the nursery compensation fee, yet only one, Swieqi United, has publicly opposed it so far.

“We agree that clubs are under-funded, which makes it hard for local football to improve its standards, but the system should not be abused at the expense of children, who at the end of the day play football for fun,” Swieqi United president Justin Fenech told MaltaToday.

A petition set up by the Malta Football Players’ Association two weeks ago to demand the end to the “exploitation” of children has so far garnered some 2,000 signatures, but concrete reform remains unlikely at this stage. This is because it will have to be approved by the council of the Malta Football Association, which is some 70% composed of football clubs – the majority of which view the nursery compensation fee as a vital form of income. 

“A lot of lobbying and arm-twisting goes on in the council... Maltese clubs are expert at that,” the MFPA’s deputy secretary general, Konrad Sultana, told MaltaToday. “The petition is only the first step. Our aim is to keep applying pressure and educate the public, many of whom have no idea that this system exists.

“We firmly believe that there should not be any restrictions for children to play football and that clubs should not be able to use children as negotiating chips.”

How does the system work?

If a child aged between 12 and 14 wants to join a football nursery, he must first sign a form, ‘Form Q’, to register as an amateur footballer of the MFA. The two-page form, available for download from the MFA’s website, looks for all intents and purposes like a normal form but is effectively a contract that binds the child with the club until he turns 15 years old. This means that a club can downright forbid its child players from joining other teams or else demand compensation fees from the second club completely at its own discretion. These fees sometimes run into the thousands of euros and are usually not paid by the child’s new club, but by his parents. 

“The MFPA received some 30-40 complaints about the nursery compensation fee so far this year; in one case, a club had demanded €3,500 for a 14-year-old who wanted to move clubs,” Sultana said.

When a child turns 15 and is hence no longer eligible to play in the Under-15 league, the rules suddenly become less gray; a child’s new club will have to pay his old nursery €300 for every season spent with them. Alternatively, the child can choose to de-register from the MFA’s system for 18 months and apply with a new club, without paying the compensation fee. Once the child turns 16 and signs a new ‘Form G’, it is once again up to his club to decide how much compensation to demand in the event of a transfer – until he turns 19.

As Justin Fenech explained, the system in a nutshell discourages children who are unhappy at their clubs or who aren’t playing regularly – from seeking greener pastures. The upshot of this is that disheartened children choose to drop out of the game entirely.

“I would not have a problem paying compensation fees for talented children I would like to see join Swieqi, but it is unfair for a club to demand compensation for a child who isn’t even playing for them and who wants to leave,” he said. “Essentially, this is about clubs making money off the backs of the less talented children. Compensation should be based on success.”

It may look like a run-of-theIt may look like a run-of-the-mill form, but is in fact a binding contract
It may look like a run-of-theIt may look like a run-of-the-mill form, but is in fact a binding contract

Where do the politicians stand?

Parliamentary secretary for sport Chris Agius, who used to work as a football nursery administrator, told MaltaToday that it is unacceptable for nurseries to request compensation fees from parents, especially for transfers of children who seek more playing time and so seek to join a smaller club at a lower division. However, he said that any discussion should also bear in mind that nurseries require finances to exist. 

“My experience was with a small nursery, where the fee paid by the players was a nominal fee and in many cases, the fee was waived due to social difficulties. My nursery also used to give free transfers to players who felt that they did not make the grade and looked for more playing time. However, when a young player was requested by a bigger club, we asked for compensation. Nurseries need funds to be run and the fees paid do not make up for the costs incurred – such as for coaches, training grounds, and transport.”

Sport Malta chairman and Labour MP Luciano Busuttil threw his weight behind the MFPA’s petition, while insisting that his view “does not necessarily reflect the opinion” of the sports authority. 

“Whilst I understand that clubs consider football players as assets since they invest in nourishing their talent, I do not agree that at such a young age clubs should be allowed to ask parents for any form of compensation,” he said. “Children should never be considered as ‘property’.”

Opposition MP David Agius, the PN’s spokesperson for sports, said that he will request the social affairs committee to call a meeting on the issue, so as to hear the views of all stakeholders. He also suggested the establishment of a sports appeal tribunal that would rule on disputes between parents and clubs. 

“This is a complex issue, and not merely a question of whether compensation fees should be abolished or not,” he told MaltaToday. “We must analyze all sides and find out why parents are being made to fork out money that should be paid by the clubs their children transfer to.”