Termination of International Employment Agreements and the "Just Cause" Concept in the Case Law of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber

Article excerpt

Introduction

Every employed individual has a contract of employment, and the same applies to professional footballers. The majority of contracts are served out without any difficulty. This contribution considers the employment relationships which do in fact culminate in disputes between the employer (the club) and the employee (the professional footballer). As a general principle employees have a right to terminate their employment with an employer and employers have the right to terminate the employment of employees. But these rights come with responsibilities. Among the reasons for FIFA drawing up Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players are to compel parties to respect the employment agreements they have signed. Because circumstances can always arise which make continuing an employment relationship impossible, the Regulations specify rules covering cases where employment contracts are terminated prematurely. In labour law in general, personality conflicts, general dissatisfaction with performance, petty issues or one incident of inappropriate behaviour or misconduct, are usually not serious enough to warrant dismissal for just cause. In football however such aspects can indeed be a reason for terminating the contract with just cause. According to the Regulations, on the basis of the documents provided by the parties the Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC) must establish whether just cause for terminating an employment contract applies in any such situation. However just cause for dismissal is not defined in the Regulations. Over the years the DRC has handed down numerous rulings on the issue. In each case the DRC carefully investigates the facts and circumstances surrounding the employment contract breach by one of the parties. It investigates whether general conclusions can be derived from the DRC's jurisprudence in terms of the concept of 'just cause'. The high-profile decisions have not been selected from the substantial number of published rulings. The main fact that the parties covered by the published rulings are entirely anonymous means this is not possible. One cannot conclude from the judgements whether they involve players who enjoy global fame. A selection has been made from the judgements with a view to a better understanding of the 'just cause' concept. The rulings which pass muster have been grouped into central themes. This method has been used to discover whether the connotation of the concept of 'just cause' is related to a specific case, or whether it is in fact entirely insensitive to this.

The main focus in this contribution is on the stipulations in the FIFA Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players covering the termination of employment contracts with and without just cause. No further consideration is given to the consequences which the absence of just cause can have, given that this would involve its own comprehensive investigation. After dealing with the relevant stipulations in the Regulations, attention switches to the body which is tasked with establishing whether the reasons for termination are valid or not based on the Regulations: the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC). Thereafter, before moving to a description of a number of DRC judgements in instances of employment contracts being terminated with or without just cause, a few words are dedicated to the way in which parties are required to substantiate their contentions. But before tackling any of this, something should be said about the two versions of the Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players, which applied for some considerable time, depending on the moment at which a claim was lodged with FIFA.

1. The FIFA Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players of 2001 and 2004

Following the Bosman judgment (1) a new situation arose for both clubs and players at the end of an employment contract's term. The club then had no further influence on the player and could no longer--as was previously the case--require a transfer fee for the transfer of a player to a new club. …