Fifa: Gareth Bale and Zlatan Ibrahimovic query EA Sports game image rights

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Sport Wales
Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale rejoined Tottenham from Real Madrid on a season-long loan in September

Leading footballers such as Gareth Bale and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are consulting their lawyers about the use of their names and images in video games.

AC Milan striker Ibrahimovic claimed on social mediaexternal-link that EA Sports' Fifa games were "making profit on my name and face without any agreement all these years".

Bale, on loan at Tottenham, joined in, using the hashtag "#TimeToInvestigate".

EA Sports says it has "contractual rights to include the likeness of all players currently in our game".

A source close to Wales forward Bale claimed many other players and agents around the world are also seeking legal advice.

That source pointed to an example in Brazilexternal-link from June, where players won a settlement of 6.5m Brazilian real - a little over £900,000 - after the Union of Athletes of Santa Catarina brought a case against the game's developers, EA Sports, in court.

The Fifa series is one of the most popular video game franchises in the world, selling more than 260 million copies as of 2018.

Its latest edition, Fifa 21, was released in October, featuring more than 7,000 players, 700 teams and officially licenced access to play in competitions such as the Premier League and Champions League.

Other popular games such as Pro Evolution Soccer pay for player likenesses and some official team and competition names, while management simulator series Football Manager features licensed competitions and players.

In a statement to BBC Sport Wales, EA Sports said: "To be very clear, we have contractual rights to include the likeness of all players currently in our game.

"We are aware of discussions around licensing of players in EA Sports Fifa.

"The current situation being played out on social media is an attempt to draw Fifa 21 into a dispute between a number of third parties and has little to do with EA Sports."

Ibrahimovic and Bale have appeared in several versions of Fifa, with Bale appearing on the cover of Fifa 14 alongside Barcelona and Argentina great Lionel Messi.

But Ibrahimovic claimed on social media on Monday that the game and its makers, EA Sports, had been using his image without his permission.

"Who gave Fifa EA Sport permission to use my name and face? @FIFPro?" the former Manchester United and Barcelona player wrote on Twitter.

"I'm not aware to be a member of Fifpro and if I am I was put there without any real knowledge through some weird maneuver [sic].

"And for sure I never allowed @FIFAcom or Fifpro to make money using me.

"Somebody is making profit on my name and face without any agreement all these years. Time to investigate."

Bale, 31, responded by writing: "@Ibra_official Interesting... what is @FIFPro ? #TimeToInvestigate."

Fifpro's full name is Federation Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnel, also known in English as the International Federation of Professional Footballers.

It is a global players' union, consisting of 65 national member associations across the world.

Among the "key principles" on Fifpro's website is the statement: "A player's name, image and performance may only be commercially utilised with his or her consent, voluntarily given."

In a statement Fifpro said: "Fifpro wishes to clarify the manner in which it obtains the image rights of players, and its role in defending the employment rights of professional footballers worldwide.

"Fifpro, a not-for-profit organisation, acquires image rights via player unions in nearly 60 countries.

"These rights are made available to Electronic Arts and other clients in the video gaming industry. Fifpro's relationship with the video gaming companies complements separate arrangements they directly agree with clubs, leagues, governing bodies and individual players.

"Fifpro member unions decide how best to use the revenue generated, either by distributing funds directly among players or providing services in kind such as legal advice, second-career planning and mental and physical assistance.

"Fifpro is reaching out to the players and their representation that have recently raised concerns so we can address their questions. As the Covid-19 pandemic severely impacts the football industry, we are proud of our member unions for having supported tens of thousands of footballers around the world."

In addition, Premier League clubs sell their licensing rights for video games collectively, whereas Italy's top-flight sides do not.

Earlier this year, EA Sports announced an exclusive partnership with AC Milan - Ibrahimovic's club - to coincide with the launch of Fifa 21.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (left) was at the 2013 Fifa Fifpro World XI Awards ceremony alongside Cristiano Ronaldo

Despite claiming not to know about his links to Fifpro, Ibrahimovic was included in the Fifpro World XI in 2013 and the following year he was in Zurich to collect his award at the Fifa Ballon d'Or ceremony.

The 39-year-old Swede was fourth in the 2013 Ballon d'Or voting and Bale 10th as Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo won the coveted prize.

Meanwhile, Bale, whose parent club is Real Madrid, has his own esports organisation, Ellevens Esports, which has taken part in Fifa competitions.

In a statement to BBC Sport Wales, EA Sports said: "EA Sports Fifa is the world's leading football video game, and to create an authentic experience year after year we work with numerous leagues, teams and individual talent to secure the rights of player likeness to include in our game.

"One of those is a long-standing relationship with the global representative of professional football players, Fifpro, which partners with a number of licensors to negotiate deals that benefit the players and their unions.

"We acquire these licenses directly from leagues, teams, and individual players.

"In addition, we work with Fifpro to ensure we can include as many players as we can to create the most authentic game.

"In these instances, our rights to player likenesses are granted through our club agreement with AC Milan and our long-standing exclusive partnership with the Premier League, which includes all players for Tottenham Hotspur."

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