Termination of A Contract of Employment in Football Law & 'Just Cause'

I have just finished advising on a dispute between a professional football player and a premier league club in a major European league. The dispute was settled between the parties, a few days before commencement of legal proceedings. In many ways, this dispute highlighted the lengths the parties to the dispute are prepared to follow, in order for them to achieve a pre-mature termination of the contract of employment.

Termination of a contract of employment is not a new concept in FIFA's regulatory framework. Although its wording and drafting reflects, in many ways, the decision of the European Court of Justice in the case of Bosman, its continuous development suggests a remarkable 'battle' between the main stakeholders in this area: players and clubs, or, in the more appropriate legal terms: employees and employers.

FIFA's regulations on the Status & Transfer of Players make it clear that the parties to a football contract must respect and observe such contract. Rule 13, in particular, identifies that parties must observe the maintenance of contractual stability. As FIFA’s Commentary of Article 13 states, “unilateral termination of a contract without just cause, especially during the so called protected period, is to be vehemently discouraged.”

However, the principle of respect for the contract of employment is not an absolute one. Article 14 allows for the unilateral termination of the contract with ‘just cause’, as long as there is a valid reason. There is no standard definition of ‘just cause’ and the application of such principle depends on the merits and the particular circumstances of each case. As the FIFA Commentary on the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players explains: “However, should the violation persist for a long time or should many violations be cumulated over a certain period of time, then it is most probable that the breach of contract has reached such a level that the party suffering the breach is entitled to terminate the contract unilaterally.”

Although in a non-football contract situation, the liable party may have to face, depending on the facts and the remedy sought, damages for breach of contract and/or specific remedies against them, in a football contract of employment, the party found to have breached such contract, may also have to face additional sporting sanctions, pursuant to Article 17 on the Status & Transfer of Players. Caution, therefore, must be exercised when one advises clients in relation to a possible termination of the contract of employment.

Finally, the various obligatory terms set out in the relevant Regulations, and referred to above, are fundamental to FIFA’s regulatory system and ability to control and have jurisdiction over the contractual stability of such system. The failure of the contracting parties to follow and apply such obligatory provisions and to comply with these fundamental requirements means that the agreement, which the parties signed, has been breached. Consequently, such situation would force advocates, acting for either party, to argue that such breaches may allow parties to escape their contractual responsibilities and such situation, therefore, would wholly undermine FIFA’s regulatory regime.

Dr. Gregory Ioannidis

12 August 2013


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