Labour disputes between professional football players and their clubs are, of course, frequent. A short, fast-working career in an extremely competitive market where the best athletes are worth their weight in gold determines this.
The pandemic situation we are experiencing may increase this player-club litigation. In this context, it seems extremely important to us to refer to an institute provided for in Article 15 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (FIFA Regulations), under its name “sporting just clause”.
According to this article, “An established professional who, during the course of the season, has appeared in less than ten percent of the official matches in which his club has been involved may terminate his contract prematurely on the basis of sporting just cause. The circumstances of the player shall be duly taken into account when considering such cases. Just cause must be established on a case-by-case basis. In such a case, no sporting sanctions shall be imposed, although compensation may be paid. A professional may only terminate his contract on this basis within 15 days of the last official match of the season of the club with which he is registered.
Thus, it may be possible for an established professional player to terminate his contract for “just cause” when he has participated in less than 10% of his club’s official matches in the season in question. If such termination is deemed to be covered by Article 15 of the FIFA Regulations, the player will not suffer the sporting consequences provided for by the statute. The existence of a “just sporting cause” does not, however, rule out the possible award of compensation.
The applicability of such institute is dependent on the demonstration of several requirements: that the player is established as a professional, that he has participated in less than 10% of the official matches that his team has played in the season in question and finally that the contractual rescission takes place within 15 days from the last official match of his team.
The concrete applicability of Article 15 is “established on a case-by-case basis” and “the circumstances of the player will be taken into account in the assessment of such cases”. This means that FIFA’s courts – namely its Dispute Resolution Chamber – when called to settle disputes related to this matter, have a relevant degree of discretion to determine whether, in casu, the termination of a contract is the result of a just sporting cause.
Such discretion is tempered by several criteria that have been adopted by FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber and the Court of Arbitration of Sport of Lausanne, namely the definition of an established professional, the criteria for accounting for the 10% of official matches played or other objective requirements for verification of just cause in sport.
This is a subject that has been gaining relevance and that the Caiado Guerreiro Sports Law team is following closely. Should you have any doubts on this subject and for further information, Gonçalo Rodrigues Gomes and Pedro Pires e Borges.