Changes to The Football Association’s Governing Body Endorsement criteria

The Home Office has approved new Governing Body Endorsement (“GBE”) Criteria for The FA.   

The summer football transfer window opened on 14 June 2023, and with it came significant amendments to The Football Association’s (“The FA") Men’s Governing Body Endorsement (“GBE”) rules and criteria which determine whether non-UK players can transfer to and play for clubs in England.

In short, a GBE is confirmation by a governing body that a sportsperson migrating to the UK is established at the highest level and/or will make a significant contribution to the development of their sport at the highest level in the UK. This is required for non-British players transferring to clubs within the UK.  The respective football associations for the four Home Nations are empowered to issue GBE criteria from time to time, and in England that responsibility lies with The FA.  The FA has issued criteria for men’s and women’s players as well as managerial, technical, and backroom staff.  The major of the changes for the 2023/4 season related to the men’s criteria, with notable changes to the women’s criteria too.

The Men's Game 

The Previous Men's GBE Regime

Previously, male players could qualify for a GBE under three routes:

  1. The 'Auto-Pass', for established internationals, based on appearances for their national teams (and depending on national team FIFA rankings):  the better the national team ranking, the easier it is for a player from that country to obtain an ‘Auto-Pass’;
  2. Scoring 15 points across six different criteria:  These include (a) international appearances; (b) domestic minutes; (c) continental minutes; (d) final position of the player’s last club; (e) continental progression of the player’s last club; and (f) quality of the league in which the player last played; or
  3. The 'Exceptions Panel' route, for players who did not score the 15 points (and could demonstrate that there were exceptional circumstances that prevented them from doing so) or 'Youth Players' with "significant potential" and "sufficient quality".

Changes introduced for 2023/24

Route 4: The ESC System

In addition to the three routes listed above which remain in place, The FA has introduced the new Elite Significant Contribution (“ESC”) route, which became effective from 14 June 2023.

The ESC system allows clubs competing in the Premier League or EFL Championship to sign up to four non-UK players (and up to 2 for clubs competing in EFL Leagues One and Two) who would otherwise not qualify for a GBE via the three existing routes above. 

Additionally, the number of players a club will be able to sign in the future under the ESC criteria will depend on the number of playing minutes given to English players (known as English Qualified Players (or “EQPs”)) throughout the season before.

The higher a club's 'Weighted EQP Minutes %' (as defined), the more ESC Players it can sign (up to a maximum of 4 (for PL and Championship clubs) or 2 (for League One or Two clubs). As such, while every club in the English Football League will get at least two places for players in the 2023/2024 season under the ESC criteria, in future seasons, clubs will receive between zero and four places depending on the number of minutes given to English players throughout the previous season.

Essentially, the system operates to incentivise and credit English clubs who give more game time to EQPs, improving the development of home-grown players, whilst still enabling English clubs to recruit top players from overseas.  FA Chief Executive Mark Bullingham described the new model as a “progressive solution which will give clubs additional access to international talent and incentivise playing opportunities for English talent”.

The ESC system retains a key focus on ensuring that players brought into the English football system under this regime are of an elite level. The men’s criteria make clear that a GBE will be granted to an ESC Player provided that “the club has evidenced to the FA’s satisfaction that the Player is an elite player and will make a significant contribution to the sport”.

While the FA has committed to publishing practical guidance as to what this means in due course, the Regulations make clear that any player looking to obtain a GBE under the ESC regime must have sufficient experience, either at international, continental or domestic level, whether that be as a youth or senior player.

Rebranding of leagues

In addition to the introduction of the ESC system, The FA has also 're-banded' Leagues under the regulations. This has an impact on the number of points players from these leagues can score towards the required 15 for a GBE (Band 1 being the highest and 6 the lowest). For example:

  • Major League Soccer is now a Band 3 competition (upgraded from Band 4 in 2022/23), meaning players from the USA now stand to gain more points towards the required 15 for any transfers to England;
  • The Russian Premier Liga and Chinese Super League have both been downgraded from Band 3 to 4 and Band 5 to 6 respectively;
  • The following leagues have been added as Band 5 competitions:
    • Italian Serie B: the only second professional division from Europe’s ‘Big 5’ leagues that was previously classified as band 6, has been upgraded.  Whilst still not the same level as other second professional divisions from Europe’s ‘Big 5’ leagues (Germany, Spain and France are all classified as Band 4, whilst the EFL Championship is a ‘Band 2’ league),  this re-branding makes it slightly easier for players from second division Italian clubs to transfer to England. 
    • The Japanese J1 League and the South Korean K League 1 are the only Asian leagues to receive a classification higher than Band 6, perhaps reflective of the fact these two countries are perhaps the highest contributors of Asian talent in English leagues.

The Women's Game

The women’s GBE system remains largely unchanged, in the sense that there are still 3 ways in which a club can obtain a GBE for a female player. These are: (1) the auto-pass, (2) the points based system (24 points required); and (3) the exceptions panel route.

The key change to the women’s criteria is the availability of ‘exceptions panels’ to ‘Youth Players’ (i.e. players under 21), regardless of how many points they score, as long as they can demonstrate that they have “significant potential” and are of “elite quality to enhance the development of the game in England”. 

Previously, exceptions panels were only available to (a) those players who scored 20-23 points, and could demonstrate that “exceptional circumstances” prevented them from achieving the required 24;  or (b) those players who were “Unavailable for Selection” for the 12/24 months (depending on whether the player was ‘Youth’ or not) before the GBE application.

It therefore follows that “Youth Players” – i.e. those born on or after 1 January 2002 – now stand to benefit from the ability to present their case to an exceptions panel, even if they don’t score any points (although the more points scored, the greater the prospects of demonstrating “potential” and “quality” referred to above).

However, the bar remains high for players born before 1 January 2002, as they need to score at least 20 points to go down the exceptions panel route.

Additionally, the women’s criteria has also seen a ‘re-banding’ of leagues, including the addition of a third band.

  • Band 1 includes the first professional divisions in England, France, Germany, USA, Spain Sweden and the Netherlands.
  • Band 2 includes the top leagues from Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Mexico and Norway.
  • Band 3 encompasses all other leagues.

Rustam Sethna, Associate on the Mills & Reeve Sports Law team analyses the practical impact of these changes in this video.

The Mills & Reeve sports law team have put together a set of FAQs, which will be updated to reflect the recent changes in due course.  The team has significant experience advising clubs, agents and players on the application of the GBE criteria – if you have any further questions, we’d love to hear from you!

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