By Jonathan Copping, Sports Lawyer, Bolt Burdon Law Firm, London, United Kingdom
The international union for professional footballers, FIFPro, has agreed to drop the complaint it lodged with the European Commission in September 2015, challenging FIFA’s transfer system for not complying with EU competition law, after it reached a landmark settlement with FIFA, which was announced on 6 November 2017 (see earlier GSLTR website post of 25 October 2017).
FIFPro and FIFA have signed a six-year co-operation agreement to improve the governance of professional football worldwide.
Whilst few details of this agreement have been revealed, FIFPro and FIFA both released almost identical statements on their respective websites, suggesting that further collaboration between them will be required to implement new rules for FIFA’s transfer system.
Announcing the agreement, FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, stated:
“Today marks an important milestone in the improvement of the global governance of professional football. I have witnessed unprecedented cooperation between FIFA, FIFPro, the European Club Association and the World Leagues Forum. These were complicated negotiations with the game’s key stakeholders and each one has made some compromises but, at the end of the day, this agreement is beneficial for all and the ultimate winner is football. I’m looking forward to seeing the same collaborative approach for the discussions that will start now concerning a broader review of the transfer system. All parties – member associations, confederations, players, clubs and leagues – have an important role to play in this process”.
Whilst FIFPro President, Philippe Piat, stated:
“This mutual understanding has helped set in motion the biggest changes to football transfer rules since 2001. While clubs in the richest leagues invariably treat players well, there are other leagues in which the employment rights of footballers are routinely ignored. These rule changes will help protect the 60,000 players FIFPro represents against unfair treatment. FIFPro is also pleased that the other key football stakeholders share our view to improve the transfer system in the interests of protecting the health of the game. We look forward to working together on this in the coming weeks”.
It is hoped that any new rules that are eventually implemented address the concerns regarding articles 13 to 18 of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP). In particular, Article 16, as currently drafted, restricts a player from unilaterally terminating their contract during the course of a season.
The effect of such a provision means that a club can withhold payment to the player and the player will be in breach of their contract if they attempt terminate their contract. Under English Law, the refusal to pay a player their wages would almost certainly be a repudiatory breach of contract and would allow the player to terminate the contract despite the wording of the RSTP. Complications may also arise in other jurisdictions.
Article 17 is also particularly punitive towards a player. In short, where a player terminates their contract without just cause, the player is liable to receive a 4-month ban from playing in official matches, as well as being required to pay back fees and expenses paid by the club – amortised over the term of the contract.
This settlement agreement is a positive step forward in addressing the current RSTP, but the success of the agreement can only be judged once the amendments to them are known and come into force.
Jonathan Copping can be contacted by e-mail at ‘JonathanCopping@boltburdon.co.uk’