Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

The Webster Case: Justified Panic as There Was after Bosman?

Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

The Webster Case: Justified Panic as There Was after Bosman?

Article excerpt

As we know, the notorious Bosman case had a major impact on the international football world and can be regarded as one of the most important sports cases in history. (1) In it the European Court of Justice stressed in 1995 that transfer compensation to be paid by a club for a player who had ended his contractual relationship with his former club was not permitted, violating the free movement of people within the European Union. This was a serious shock to the international football world. Clubs faced particular difficulties after the Bosman case, in that they had to prevent players reaching the end of their contracts and then running off freely. The clubs had to invent legal constructions to maintain a stronger hold on their players. So they began negotiating contracts for longer periods, and were tempted to draft contract clauses allowing them to secure compensation for their losses. (2) Another method the clubs invented after Bosman was to insert clauses whereby they unilaterally reserved the right to extend the agreement, the so-called unilateral extension option. This unilateral extension option is now generally a standard feature of player contracts.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) recently ruled the so-called 'Webster case'. (3) Here the CAS decided that the player was permitted to terminate his employment contract unilaterally after the socalled 'protected period'. (4) The CAS also decided that as a result of his termination after the protected period, player Webster only had to pay the remaining value of his contract to his former club as compensation. The football world again reacted with panic. FIFA was also highly dismayed at the CAS decision, stating that this verdict in the player's favour would have far-reaching and damaging effects on the game as a whole. (5) The important question now is whether it will indeed be another landmark judgment in the world of sports law. In other words, does this mean that every player who terminates his employment contract after the protected period only has to pay the remaining value of his contract as compensation? Or more importantly, will clubs once more face serious difficulties, given that players might be entitled to terminate their contracts unilaterally after this protected period? Let us begin with the facts of the case.

Scottish international Andrew Webster was a player with Heart of Midlothian. In 2006 he was relegated to the bench after a conflict with club owner Vladimir Romanov. This motivated Webster to terminate his contract. He did it outside the protected period, so that no sporting sanctions would be imposed. (6) Then he signed a new contract with Wigan Athletic. But Heart of Midlothian did not agree to the termination and refused to cooperate in the transfer to Wigan Athletic. Webster thus appealed to FIFA, asking for a provisional registration for his new club; this was allowed by the PSC's Single Judge. Now the dispute was only about the amount of compensation. Heart of Midlothian claimed a market value of GBP 5,000,000. The DRC believed that the player had terminated his contract outside the protected period--a highly important element in establishing the compensation amount. (7) The DRC decided it was undeniable that the unilateral termination had occurred after three seasons, i.e., after the protected period and within 15 days of the season's last match. It referred to the maintenance of contractual stability, which represents the backbone of the agreement between FIFA/UEFA and the European Commission signed in March 2001. In this decision, the DRC referred to Article 17 Paragraph 1 of the Regulations for the Status and Transfer for Players (RSPT), edition 2005, which provides the key to assessing the amount of compensation due by a player to a club. (8) Here it states that compensation for breach shall be calculated with due consideration for the law of the country concerned, the specificity of the sport and other objective criteria such as the remuneration and other benefits due to the player under the existing contract and/or the new contract, the time remaining on the existing contract up to a maximum of five years, the fees and expenses paid or incurred by the former club and whether the breach falls within the protected period. …

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