Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

The Prize for Freedom of Movement: The Webster Case

Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

The Prize for Freedom of Movement: The Webster Case

Article excerpt

Introduction

Eighteen-year-old Andy Webster moved from Arbroath club to Heart of Midlothian PLC (Hearts), both Scottish clubs, for a transfer compensation of 75,000 [euro]. Webster's employment contract was due to run from 31 March 2001 to 30 June 2005. Halfway through this term, he signed a new contract with Hearts on 1 July 2003, to run until 30 June 2007. Webster had developed into an important player in Hearts' first eleven and in the Scottish national team. It was appealing for Hearts to bind the player to it for a longer term. In April 2005, the club made an offer to Webster--with improved terms--to play for the club for two extra seasons. No agreement was reached however. Hearts made several more offers, but they were all rejected by the player one by one. During this period, Hearts did not field Webster in a variety of matches, which led the player to believe that the club was attempting to put pressure on him through tactical considerations, to accede to the club's proposals. The relationship between the club and the player soured still further and reached its nadir following utterances against Webster in the media by the most important shareholder. Incensed at these remarks, Webster approached the Scottish Professional Footballer's Association (SPFA), which advised him to lodge a claim on the basis of clause 18 of his employment contract (1). Webster notified the club in writing that he wished to terminate his employment contract on the basis of "just cause". He argued that the club had defaulted on its obligations towards him, and that a "fundamental breakdown in trust" justified his position. In response, Hearts indicated that they had lodged a case with the Scottish Premier League Board. For Webster, this entailed the danger of a long-running procedure, making it impossible for him to sign a contract with another club for the 2006/2007 season. Webster opted for a different route: dismissal no longer based on "just cause", but dismissal without "just cause" based on art. 17 of the FIFA Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players 2005 ("Regulations"). (2) In July 2006, Webster's business manager sent a fax to 50 clubs stating that Webster had ended his contract with Hearts, and that this termination meant he would only have to pay 200,000 [euro] compensation to Hearts. On 9 August 2006, Webster signed a three-year contract with the English club Wigan Athletic AFC. The English football association asked the Scottish association to forward the player's international transfer certificate. The Scottish association refused compliance in writing, because Webster was still under contract to Hearts. On 18 August 2006, Wigan approached FIFA and requested that they approve Webster's provisional registration. On 28 August, the Scottish association notified FIFA that they could not comply with the request. On 31 August, the Single Judge of the Player's Status Committee approved the provisional registration with immediate effect. (3)

Hearts submitted the case to the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC) and claimed judgment against Webster to pay 5,027,311 [euro] in compensation, Webster's exclusion from official matches for two months and, finally, payment of compensation by Wigan and a ban against the club registering any new players during one registration period.

What criteria are considered in determining compensation in the case of a unilateral employment contract termination without "just cause"? Art. 17(1) of the Regulations states on this:

"In all cases, the party in breach shall pay compensation. Subject to the provisions of Art. 20 and annex 4 in relation to Training Compensation, and unless otherwise provided for in the contract, compensation for breach shall be calculated with due consideration for the law of the country concerned, the specificity of sport, and any other objective criteria. These criteria shall include, in particular, 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 (amortised over the term of the contract) and whether the contractual breach falls within a Protected Period. …

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