Update: FIFPro has issued the following statement regarding this issue (thanks, Push Square):
In light of recent media reports, 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.
FIFPro has also addressed the concerns of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Gareth Bale and agent Mino Raoila, pointing out that the trio has been involved with the FIFA brand for quite some time:
Mino Raiola is a respected player representative who we have partnered with for many years, including this year when our relationship ensured his client Erling Haaland would be part of our FIFA 21 marketing campaign. We have also enjoyed a great working relationship with Zlatan Ibrahimović, who has appeared in every FIFA since 2002 and regularly received awards as part of our FUT experience. Gareth Bale’s eSports Company Elleven utilises our FIFA game as a key platform for his professional eSports athletes and we’re confident Gareth and his team see significant value in our partnership, as evidenced through this recently released content.
Original story [Wed 25th Nov, 2020 13:30 GMT]: Leading professional footballers Zlatan Ibrahimović and Gareth Bale have voiced concern about the way their names and likenesses are being used for profit by FIFA creator Electronic Arts, following reports that David Beckham has bagged a cool £40 million by allowing EA to feature him in the latest version of the game.
The long-running series is built on official licencing which allows EA to not only use the branding of leagues and clubs all over the world, but also the digital likenesses of some of the beautiful game's most famous players.
One of those players – Swedish legend Zlatan Ibrahimović – has questioned exactly who gave EA the permission to use his name and face in the game. He assumes it was FIFPro, a union for professional football players, but claims he never gave the organisation the authority to speak to EA about including him in the series:
Wales international Gareth Bale – who is signed to Spanish giants Real Madrid but is currently on loan to top-of-the-table Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur – added to the conversation:
Ibrahimović's agent Mino Raoila joined the thread, first stating that his hope was that "we get the answer to our letters now," before adding "FIFPro and AC Milan do not have players individual rights as I'm sure you know and as we've told you many times, EA Sports."
Bale's agent, Jonathan Barnett, told The Guardian that legal action was "something that is being looked into," and that "at the moment, the players don't get paid. Our big gripe is that FIFA are coming out with lots of rules and regulations saying that they are looking after the best interests of players but obviously they don't."
EA has issued the following statement on the matter:
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.
To be very clear, we have contractual rights to include the likeness of all players currently in our game. As already stated, we acquire these licences 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.
According to GamesIndustry.biz, the "current situation" EA is referring to is FIFA's recently-announced plans to "introduce regulations on agents in 2021 that would limit their ability to represent more than one party in a transfer and add a cap to commission fees."
Following Ibrahimović and Bale's public statements on Twitter, some fans have been quick to point out that the pair have enjoyed a close association with FIFA over the years – Ibrahimović was picked as EA Sports Player of the Month in December 2016 and was later photographed with a physical copy of his Ultimate Team player card to promote FIFA 17. Bale, on the other hand, was one of the cover stars for FIFA 14.
Some have argued that it's highly unlikely that these two individuals have been totally unaware that their likenesses have been used in the game until now, and it has been speculated that Beckham's deal – not to mention the huge revenue generated by FIFA's Ultimate Team mode (27% of EA's total revenue in the previous fiscal year, according to GamesIndustry.biz) – is what has drawn their attention.