The Court of Arbitration for Sport has dismissed an appeal from a professional football club against the order of FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber to pay compensation to its former player. Steven Flynn and Rosie Kight, instructed by Manleys Solicitors, represented the successful player.

Following a transfer in January 2021, an internationally capped player was repeatedly left unpaid. His new club cited Covid-19 along with a myriad of other reasons for non-payment. When the player challenged the club’s failure to pay, he was demoted from the first team to the Under 21s. When the player stood his ground, matters escalated. Club officials entered the changing room, demanding that he sign a contractual variation in a language the player couldn’t understand. When he refused, the player was repeatedly fined. Matters came to a head when the player was threatened, with the club saying it would direct local police officers to stop him in the streets. In fear for his safety, the player fled the country. The player did so without warning the club, due to concerns that local authorities may prevent him from leaving. Having reached safety, the player, with the assistance of his agent, instructed Manleys to assist him with terminating his playing contract.

After an initial win for the player at the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber, the club appealed to the CAS. The Club sought compensation from the player and his new club for the loss of a transfer fee. Steven Flynn and Rosie Kight represented the player before the CAS.

The issue taken by the club on appeal was whether the player had the right to leave the country and terminate his contract without warning. The club argued that an express term of the contract required 14-days’ notice to be given; during which the club could remedy the situation. Alternatively, it argued that Regulation 14bis of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (‘FIFA RSTP’)requires 15-days’ notice where termination related to non-payment of wages. The club claimed that it was entitled to compensation for the loss of the player’s registration. The player’s new club was added to the CAS proceedings, with the former club claiming that both the player and the new club were jointly liable.

Relying on a complex combination of Swiss law (as applied at the CAS), the club’s national law, and previous decisions of the CAS, the player was successfully able to argue that he enjoyed a right to terminate for just cause. Whilst Swiss law emphasises the importance of forewarning an employer before resigning, this was held by the CAS not to be an absolute criterion when considering a just cause termination. In any event, the CAS determined that any notice requirement was satisfied by the player drawing the club’s attention to the breach of the playing contract. The CAS said that the player had done so by raising the non-payment of his wages, and that the club’s argument that this was insufficient was unsubstantial and deceptive. The CAS also rejected the club’s argument that express terms of the playing contract entitled it to assign the player to the U21 team. The player had been signed as a first team player and there was no valid reason for the reassignment. The club’s conduct placed the player in a situation where he could no longer rely on the continuation of the contractual relationship with the club; therefore, he had just cause to terminate the playing contract.

In making an Award in favour of the player, the CAS ordered the club to pay the outstanding salary to the date of termination, and compensate him for his reduced earnings with his new club. The CAS also ordered the club to pay three months’ salary as additional compensation because the termination was related to non-payment of salary.

Steven and Rosie were instructed by Mark Manley and George Leeming of Manleys Solicitors.

Steven and Rosie are sports law specialists with a wealth of experience before national and international tribunals. If you require any assistance, then please contact Harry Young.

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