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Negotiations Break Down In Transfer System Reform

Wed 28th Jan 2015 | Money & Finance

Negotiations being driven by FIFPro, the World Footballers' Association, to reform football's player transfer system have stalled at the first major hurdle.

Representatives of the leagues and the clubs have refused to agree to key proposals to protect players who are not paid their wages on time or who have their contracts unjustly terminated.

The talks, being held at FIFA, have been postponed indefinitely. With negotiations now at a standstill, FIFPro has called an extraordinary meeting of Division Europe to address this serious matter. Player associations from 29 countries in Europe will assemble tomorrow and Thursday (January 28-29) at the Hilton Hotel in Athens, Greece.

FIFPro Secretary General Theo van Seggelen reiterated that the biggest problem in professional football today is a lack of respect by clubs for their contractual obligations to players.

"Every year, around 4,000 players file cases with FIFA either because their club has not paid them or the club has unjustly terminated the contract. Due to the volume of cases, players have to wait several years for a hearing which, in over 90% of matters, is decided in favour of the player.

"Given the short-term and precarious nature of a player's career, these delays cannot be tolerated. Clubs have now taken to exploiting the delays through tactics such as heavy handedness and vexatious litigation to ensure that compensation payments are avoided or minimised.

"FIFA's caseload does not even take into account the extent of the problem at the national level, as FIFA is only competent to hear cases between players and clubs of different nationalities.

"Basic measures must be urgently introduced to give players stability in their contractual relations with clubs, and to prevent the widespread lack of respect for the contractual rights of players from continuing."

Despite the negotiations having opened in March 2014, the European Clubs' Association (ECA) and the European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) failed to accept four key FIFPro proposals designed to ensure contractual stability in professional football:

- That a player who is unpaid for more than 30 days can elect to terminate his contract if he has given his club at at least 10 days written notice to pay what is owed

- That if a player contract is terminated by a club without just cause or by the player for non-payment, the player will be entitled to be financially compensated by having the contract paid out by the club

- That such a player be able to find work without restriction including outside of any transfer window

- The reforms apply both internationally and domestically.

"These reforms would make the contract of a professional player a two way street," Van Seggelen said.

"The situation can be contrasted to the rights of a club where a player breaches a contract, which would see him often responsible to pay his own transfer value and subject to a mandatory ban.

Transfer values have, of course, spiralled out of control and can see players liable for the payment of millions of dollars, something no other employee would have to bear.

"To be fair, the system must give clubs and players reciprocal rights and responsibilities and accord with applicable employment law."

The breakdown on this fundamental point leaves negotiations about the future of the transfer system in doubt.

"FIFPro was open to negotiate reforms to the transfer system that would improve it for all football stakeholders," Van Seggelen said.

“The transfer system is failing football and its players, and highlights the need for further reform.

“FIFPro is increasingly concerned by the gap between rich and poor in the football industry, and how the game continues to face economic problems despite record revenues.

"However, the bigger discussion can only take place if key stakeholders such as the ECA and the EPFL are to support basic measures that will ensure a player contract in professional football is stable and secure," Van Seggelen concluded.

Passing comment on the complexity of the negotiations Michael Goitein, sports specialist at Thomas Eggar LLP, said, “Footballers’ contracts remain at the forefront of FIFPro’s (the World Players’ Union) agenda with pressure mounting on clubs, leagues and governing bodies to provide more safeguards for their players. 

“The pressure comes from FIFPro’s proposals to bring greater contractual stability to the modern game, as the present situation allows clubs to exploit their players through premature termination and the underpayment (or non-payment) of wages. Latest figures reveal that over 4,000 cases for wrongful termination or breach of contract are filed with FIFA every year.

“The initial problem is that contracts are seemingly balanced in favour of the employer with many contractual provisions operating as a ‘‘one-way’’ street. Principles of employment law should ideally strike a balance between employer and employee, observing and protecting the rights of each.

"The absence of further basic protective measures by governing bodies, however, still leaves players open to potential exploitation. High earning players that enjoy the spotlight are not representative of the game as a whole in terms of earnings.

"At the start of their careers, players often have only their potential on the field to speak for them,  and most cannot afford to assert their rights or pay someone to do it for them. That’s why governing bodies need to step in and protect those who play the game. 

“A further major problem is that when players do manage to enforce their rights, they face a long delay due to the backlog of cases. This problem is made worse given the short and often precarious nature of a player’s career.

"FIFA needs to devote greater resources to expediting this process to ensure that players who suffer exploitation do not endure further hindrances through missed opportunities as they await a resolution. FIFA also needs to amend its system so that it is competent to hear such cases on a national, rather than just an international, level.

“Reforms to the contractual and enforcement systems need to be negotiated or it is the game that will ultimately suffer.” 

Posted by: Aaron Gourley

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