*Written by Srijita Adak
Football is the most watched and played sport on the planet. It is the most valuable sport by net worth and player salary. Many of us watch different sports and we know there are quite a number of rules that are applicable to the sport we watch however there are much more rules and laws about sports than we know of and that is the purpose of knowing the legal aspect of sports law. Earlier it was in question whether the concept of sports law exists or not. Many people have argued that the concept of sports law does not exist and that what we have is sports and not the law.
But sports law exists and it refers to the sporting activities in different areas of law such as contract law, labour law, personal injury law, criminal law, and other areas of law. Different rules and laws apply in regard to personal injury law when players sustain injuries either within or without the field of play. Criminal law comes into the picture as to whether a player’s action on the field of play could constitute a crime which the player could be jailed for. There are other areas of law that govern sports law and are applied when necessary. These areas of law constitute sports law.
WHAT ARE FOOTBALL CONTRACTS?
The basic definition of a contract is that it is an agreement between two parties that creates an obligation to perform or not perform a particular duty. In layman’s terms, it is a legally binding document to do something. There are slight changes between the contracts in general and football contracts as they have specific clauses and terms related to sports law specifically. The football contracts are meticulously detailed and have changed over time.
There are various types of football contracts but the primary contract is the employment contract. The commercial terms of employment contracts are usually a contract which will set out the player’s weekly wage for example 50,000 pounds a week, accommodation expenses, particular bonuses, etc and for elite players of Premier League clubs, the schedule will contain usually a wide variety of clauses including bonuses for appearance and/or winning a game in a particular competition usually scoring or assisting goals granted. Apart from these, there will be a release clause, transfer clause, wage increase, and reduction clause in case of promotion/relegation of what the club will pay to the player’s agent by way of commission. So, they're the types of headline commercial provisions that would tend to be included in a player’s employment contract.
While negotiating employment contracts, one of the areas that can be very specific and very important is the definition of what an appearance is. It can be pretty straightforward and relatively narrow. For example, sometimes it can also be a set number of minutes that may be required to start a Premier League match or play a minimum of 70 minutes of the game and therefore the definition of an appearance can be pretty crucial depending upon a number of appearances, a number of minutes and the type of competition.
The key element to consider is whether there is a set stipulated number of minutes where the player must be present on the pitch or there is a set of matches to appear on or there is any condition for getting international team recognition in order to counter an appearance bonus. Obviously, if someone is negotiating this as an agent, he or she wants those to be as few as possible and if someone is negotiating this as a club then they want those as many as possible. The second element would be in relation to wage increases. So, a clause may provide that if the player makes a certain number of appearances, then their salary may increase for example from 90,000$ to 100,000$. As an agent, my primary goal would be to make those appearance clauses as obtainable and realistic as possible.
A release clause is a clause in the player's contract that becomes effective when the minimum selling figures set out in the player’s employment contracts is triggered by the Purchasing Club. the player will then be entitled to speak to the Buying Club. The clause may also be triggered if another condition is met for example on a particular transfer window or because a club didn't participate to qualify for the Champions League or a club is relegated and that effectively crystallizes a release clause. So, the point of a release is more or less to cater to a particular situation.
The key element to identify is whether it is an automatic clause or a good-faith clause. An automatic clause means that the player must be allowed to speak to a Buying Club if the minimum release amount is offered whereas a good-faith clause means the parties would be required to negotiate in good faith at least once a bid has been made. So, the point to note is that a good-faith clause does not automatically mean the Selling Club has to accept the offer.
It is a clause stipulating how much a party (the club or the player) must pay in the event of unilateral termination of the player's contract. In FC Pyunik Yerevan v. E. AFC Rapid Bucuresti & FIFA, it was decided that the buy-out clause is a species of liquidated damage clause. It happens almost when invariably the player (or an interested club) seeks to terminate the player's contract.
The sum stipulated in the buy-out clause need not be precise i.e. calculated with arithmetical certainty. It needs only to represent a genuine effort to estimate forecast losses and not out of all proportion to damage likely to be suffered. There are arguments regarding the buy-out clause are over-commercialization of football, promotion of competition monopoly, undermining of the purpose of longer-term player contracts, and the ideal of contractual stability and fostering player disloyalty.
Liquidated Damages clause
It is a clause in a contract that stipulates a predetermined sum of money payable to the plaintiff in the event of the defendant's breach. It is useful for determining more precisely rights/liabilities on the breach. It saves a party suing the party in breach for general damages. It is important to note that it is distinguished from the penalties.
There were contracts which have strange clauses. One of them was the ‘no space clause’ which stopped Swedish international player Stefan Schwartz from travelling into space as the insurance policies don’t cover space-related activities. Liverpool inserted a ‘no skiing clause’ for Norwegian Bjornebye even though skiing was his family heritage. Neymar had a clause where his friends were flown to Spain every two months for an all-expenses-paid holiday in Barcelona. Dennis Bergkamp had a fear of flying, so he insisted on a ‘no flying clause’ in his contract to ensure that he was not forced to fly on away trips. Neil Ruddock had a ‘weight gain clause’ to make sure he wouldn't turn up overweight and be in good shape for matches. Other clauses are the ‘private jet clause’, ‘partying clause’, ‘house building clause’, ‘cooking class clause’ and ‘no biting clause’, and many more.
The football contracts between players and their clubs are governed by rules of contract law. As the concerns of contract law, players have contracts with the teams of clubs and they play for them and contract laws govern this contract as the normal arrest of contracts that govern our daily transactions just like how every other person is hired for any service, players are also hired and paid in a similar manner. As a concern of criminal law, any injuries sustained during the sports are covered by the rest of the game. The rationale for this is that anybody that participates in any sports consent to the risk of injury which is likely to occur. In law, it is said that 'volenti non-fit injuria' means he who consents does not complain.
Where there is implied consensus of contact and possible harm, such contact of force must be reasonable and within the scope of the game. If the actions caused to injury are totally unreasonable and unnecessary it should not be covered by the game. An injured player could also bring a personal action against the offending player for a caused injury. The injured player could supervise responsible for the injury and the responsible party could be the owners of this person’s facility. If any dispute arises regarding these laws, there is the court of arbitration for sports which deals with contracts and sponsorship deals, injuries claim, disciplinary actions, and many other claims.
* The author is a law scholar at IFIM Law School, Bangalore, India.
(The image used here is for representational purposes only)