Panic on the pitch

In João Caiado Guerreiro's opinion piece in the newspaper A Bola: "Law ensures that in the event of a serious accident or death, support for the athlete or their family is real."
News 06/11/2023

Bas Dost, a striker who played for Sporting for three seasons, collapsed during the match between AZ Alkmaar and NEC due to myocarditis. An often fatal illness that has now put the player’s career on hold. Goalkeeper Iker Casillas had a heart attack during an FC Porto training session and was saved by teammates and doctors. The accident ended the player’s career. Midfielder Christian Eriksen, while playing for the Danish national team, also fell lifeless on the pitch, a victim of his heart, and was saved by the medical team. Today, he plays without limitations for Manchester United. Much more tragic was the situation of Miklós Fehér, Benfica’s striker, who died suddenly during a match against Vitória de Guimarães. Medical assistance was unable to prevent the worst.

These tragedies have changed lives and created a huge panic on the pitch, but in legal terms, how are these matters of incapacity or death of players dealt with? What happens to the players who have to give up their profession? And what about the clubs? How are footballers and other athletes protected?

Injuries and other accidents are treated by law as accidents at work. Some, which are real aggressions, such as a more violent tackle, can give rise to sanctions according to football rules, but that’s about it. A harder foul is within the “consent” allowed by the law for players. And so what in other situations would be punished as a crime of bodily harm has no criminal consequences. It doesn’t, in principle, because if the aggression is too violent, consent doesn’t count, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office can charge the aggressor.

What happened to Bas Dost and others is different. Article 11 of the Legal Framework of the Sports Practitioner’s Labour Contract states that clubs must “submit sports practitioners to the clinical examinations and treatments necessary for the practice of sporting activity”. There is, therefore, a clear obligation of prevention. This obligation is strictly enforced, as players are a valuable asset for SADs and, above all, they are people.

However, as the examples above show, there are situations that medicine can’t control. Although sportspeople “must preserve the physical conditions that allow them to participate in sporting competition”, article 13 and their health, the truth is that athletes often go far beyond what is reasonable: elite athletes, in particular, have a great capacity for sacrifice and suffering. And sometimes accidents happen.

Article 8 of the Labour Code states that an “accident at work occurs at the place and time of work and causes (…) bodily injury, (…) or illness resulting in reduced working capacity or earning capacity or death”.

What rights do sportspeople have, and how are they protected? In Portugal, there is a specific law for this purpose. As well as making it compulsory for athletes to have insurance, the law is more generous, providing for death pensions that “have an overall limit of 14 times the amount corresponding to 15 times the minimum wage”. This amount is reduced on the date the deceased turns 35 and again when they turn 45. This is the Law on Reparation for Damages Arising from the Sports Labour Contract. This is a different kind of protection for different workers because of the activity they practise. In addition, they have (or should have) much more significant insurance. In short, the law ensures that in the event of a severe accident or death, support for the athlete or their family is real.

This week, the right to a goal goes to all the athletes who have already left us, to those who have survived dramatic situations and to all those who continue to make sports lovers cheer. It also goes to Sporting CP, who are playing top-quality football.

Article by João Caiado Guerreiro no in the newspaper A Bola.

The content of this information does not constitute any specific legal advice; the latter can only be given when faced with a specific case. Please contact us for any further clarification or information deemed necessary in what concerns the application of the law.

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