The Barcelona soccer club has been banned from trading for 14 months for signing overseas players under 18 years old, against FIFA rules. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with soccer reporter Ashish Sharma.
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Barcelona football club is best known for making headlines on the soccer field. They've won the European Cup four times. But this season, the club has been getting more attention for its off-the-field activities. The global governing body for soccer - FIFA - has accused the team of signing players under the age of 18, which is a violation of FIFA rules. As a result, Barcelona has been banned from making any player trades for an entire year. For more on this, I'm joined from Spain by football reporter Ashish Sharma. Thanks so much for being with us.
ASHISH SHARMA: Thank you very much. Thanks for inviting me.
MARTIN: So can you explain the details behind this ban FIFA has put on Barcelona? Exactly what did the club do?
SHARMA: Well, Rachel, as you say quite elegantly in your introduction there, they accused Barcelona, I should say, of having violated their rules. And they claim that the club has signed 10 players under the age of 18 between the years of 2009 and 2013, and describes this as a serious breach of their regulations. And FIFA has a very strong policy on the employment of underage players. They state, for example, that if a club is going to sign a player between the age of, say, 16 or 18 - if they are coming from a country far away, it needs to be that the parents have moved to that country for non-footballing reasons.
So perhaps as economic migrants and then the player developed his skills and is picked up by a club. And aside from this one-year ban, which will be for two transfer windows - which means they won't be able to buy or sell players this summer and the following winter - they've also been given a fine of about half a million dollars for their violation.
MARTIN: You said that these kids are between the ages of 16 and 18. Are any of them younger than that?
SHARMA: Well, that's been pretty much stopped, really, because now, you do have 18 as being the age under which players can't be bought or sold. This wasn't the case in the past. The most famous example, actually, is Barcelona with Leo Messi. He was 11 years old when his family were invited by Barcelona to come and move to Barcelona.
But really, the rules have changed; and one of the reasons for this has been the fact that we have over the years seen an excess of young players from continents like Africa or South America, who have been sent over or brought over by clubs to take trials that haven't worked out for them. And the players just don't have the money to be able to go back to their countries. So no, it really doesn't work beyond that age anymore.
MARTIN: So Barcelona has been banned from making player trades for a year. How have they responded? I mean, is this a big deal?
SHARMA: Yes. It's a big deal because of course, what it means for the club, basically, is that they will now have a huge restriction in being able to build as a club. And in Barcelona's case, they have a very critical situation because at the end of this season, they're going to lose one of the most experienced players - the goalkeeper; and their most experienced player, the defender and captain - Carles Puyol. And, as you know, in any sport - a team sport, certainly - when you lose players of that quality and that experience, you need to reinforce, you need to bring in players with equal amount of experience.
And a club like Barcelona, who is competing at the highest level, it always needs to recruit; and it always needs to enhance and better its squad. So if you deny them that opportunity, you really are giving them a big body blow.
MARTIN: Is this really going to happen? Is it a done deal or will Barcelona find a way out?
SHARMA: Well, it's a very interesting scenario that develops now because the next process will be that Barcelona can appeal. It has within 90 days to make an appeal to FIFA's own appeals committee. If that appeal doesn't work, then the next stage for them is to take it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. And there is precedent here that will actually support Barcelona because I think it was in 2009 the English football club Chelsea also faced a similar band because they recruited a player that was 17 years old, from France. And they took their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and they were successful and it was overturned, and they were allowed to carry on in their transfer policy. So all very interesting, and something to look forward to seeing how it resolves itself.
MARTIN: Ashish Sharma, he covers football - aka soccer - in Spain. Thanks so much for talking with us, Ashish.
SHARMA: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.