EFFECTS OF COVID-19 OUTBREAK ON PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL PLAYERS CONTRACTS IN TURKEY
The new type of coronavirus (“Covid-19”) emerging in Wuhan, China, spread to more than 160 countries worldwide in a short time. The virus has been declared as “pandemic” by the World Health Organization because of it’s spreading level globally. The Union of European Football Associations (“UEFA”) held a video-conference with the participation of 55 member federations on 1 April 2020 in which it has been decided to suspend all national matches and UEFA matches until a second notification. With the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak on football, a special Working Group for Covid-19 has been established within the International Federation of Association Football (“FIFA”). In a press release dated 3 April 2020, FIFA reported to the public that the Working Group recommended to the FIFA management to suspend all international women’s and men’s football matches to be played in June.
As is known, the Turkish Football Federation (“TFF”) has announced that all football activities in Turkey have been suspended until further notice, the decision has been reached following a meeting between the TFF and the Ministry of Youth and Sports on March 20 in Ankara. TFF finally announced in its statement dated 3 April 2020 that the process related to leagues will be reassessed by the TFF Board of Directors in the first week of May, but the leagues can start at the beginning of June at the earliest situation.
If the Covid-19 cases continue increasingly, it may also be the case that the suspended leagues cannot start again. In this case, options such as switching to the playoff system, registering the leagues in their current form, and cancelling the leagues will have emerged.
While the uncertainty about when the leagues will restart after the suspension decision and whether the professional football player contracts can be terminated in case the leagues will not continue, recommendations on many issues, such as professional football player contracts that will end this year, the salaries of players included in the contracts, and the next summer transfer period have been announced in FIFA’s statement dated 07.04.2020.
In this article, we will discuss the effects of the Covid-19 global epidemic on sports clubs and professional football player contracts.
- Legal Characteristics of Professional Football Player Contracts
As in the whole world, the legal relationship between the football player and the club is provided by a professional football player contract. In the broadest sense, professional football player contract is a bilateral contract which is established between professional clubs and football players, whereby football player is obliged to play football for the club for a fee, and to spend their labour and work for this purpose within the period specified in the contract, in return the club is obliged to pay the wages and to provide the necessary facilities to spend time.
Professional football player contracts are considered among the service contracts stipulated in Article 393 and subsequent articles of the Turkish Code of Obligations (“TBK”) No. 6098. As a matter of fact, with the contract, the professional football player undertakes the service debt in the form of participating in and preparing for the competitions under the club jersey, while the sports club undertakes the payment of wages. The contract of service signed by the parties must be submitted to the TFF for registration by the club.
In a decision of the 10th Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court, it was stated that the contractual relationship between the football player and the club was based on the contract of service. Time and dependency factors are distinctive features of the contract of service, which are included in the Professional Football Player Contract. For this reason, contractual disputes between the parties should be resolved based on the provisions of the Turkish Code of Obligations.
- Does Suspension of the Leagues Extend the Duration of Professional Football Player Contract Automatically?
One of the most important issues, both in terms of sports clubs and football players, is whether the contracts of football players whose contracts expire will be extended if the suspended leagues continue after the expiration dates specified in the current contracts between sports clubs and footballers.
As is known, Instructions on the Statute and Transfers of the Professional Football Players of the Turkish Football Federation (“Instructions”) is applied to the contracts signed between sports clubs and players in our country. Article 19/3 of Instructions is as follows;
“In any case, the end date of the contracts must be determined as 31 May. If the official competitions continue after the contract end date, the contract duration is deemed extended until the end of the competitions.”
Pursuant to this article, the end date of professional football player contracts in our country is regulated as 31 May. However, if the official competitions continue after the contract end date, it is clearly stated that the contract period will be considered as extended until the end of the competitions. In other words, if the leagues are extended due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the competitions continue after 31 May (if the current season is to be completed), professional football player contracts with an end date of 31 May 2020 will automatically extend until the end of official competitions.
In the statement made by FIFA on the matter, it was announced that the contracts of football players, which will end at the end of the 2019/2020 season, will extend automatically until the end of the last game to be played this season. This explanation coincides with the Instructions and the purpose of FIFA is to prevent legal disputes that may arise in this regard and to provide unity in terms of contracts.
- The Status of the Footballers’ Receivables in case the Leagues Are Suspended or the Suspended Leagues Cannot Be Restarted
With the emergence of the Covid-19 outbreak and the suspension of the leagues, it has already become impossible for clubs and footballers to fulfil their mutual obligations. However, this impossibility is not an absolute impossibility. After it has been decided to suspend the leagues; the football clubs have been deprived of many revenues (including tickets, the match day revenues, sales of licensed products in their stores, and payments to clubs from various income sources), including broadcasting and sponsorship.
The part of the fee, which is the main element of the transfer contracts between football players and clubs, must be included in the contract. Accordingly, considering that the provisions of the Instructions and practice, there are five different receivables that professional football players gain in the professional football player contracts made between football players and clubs. These are monthly fees, warranty fees, signature fees (down payment), per match fees, and premiums. The compulsory one of these is the net wage, not fewer than the minimum wage. Since the types of wages such as per game fees and premiums are the receivables arising from playing the game, there will be no fee per game in case the match is not played.
Considering the suspension date of the leagues, it is necessary to examine the football player receivables arising from the contract in two separate subtitles, which are due and undue receivables. Accordingly, in order to claim the football player receivables arising from the contract, the receivable must be due, that is, the day of payment has come.
The minimum wage becomes due at the beginning of each month, the warranty fee and down payment are on the date agreed on, per match fee on the date when the footballer is in the squad or at the end of each competition in which he enters the game, and premiums on the date of the sporting event, which is determined as a condition of success.
- a) Payment of Football Player DueReceivables
It should be noted that the force majeure caused by the Covid-19 outbreak will not result in the impossibility of performance in terms of receivables. In the case of temporary impossibility, the debt does not end. In this case, sports clubs can get rid of their debts by performing delayed performance. However, sports clubs will not be responsible for the suspension (due to interest) caused by force majeure.
- b) Status of Player Undue Receivables
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak and suspension of the leagues, the execution of the debt that the football player must fulfil has become impossible. For this reason, since the player could not execute his debt, receivables per match and premium receivable, if agreed by the parties, will not be demanded at this stage since these are not due yet. The receivable will become due at the time of performance of the debt and in the conditions specified in the contract when the leagues restart.
- c) Can the Player Receivables Be Subject to the Case of Adaptation Due to Excessive Performance Difficulty?
If the Covid-19 outbreak does not make it impossible to perform the debt in the contractual debts and the conditions of return or termination of the contract have not been met, the professional football player may be brought to the agenda due to excessive-performance difficulties in accordance with Article 138 of the Law of Obligations.
For example, it may be possible to adapt the contract to new conditions in case of excessive-performance difficulties because of the financial difficulties of the clubs due to the epidemic and the decrease in some income items (such as playing without spectators, decreasing the sales of the form, decreases in the revenues of the broadcasting). However, for the sports club to claim an adaptation due to excessive-performance difficulties, it must not have performed its debt or performed by the reservation. Adaptation will not be claimed in terms of the executed debts.
Unilateral auctions/reductions to be made by the sports clubs on the receivables of the players are not binding for the parties unless accepted by the player. This situation may be the one-sided rightful termination reason for the football player if the conditions are met.
- Is It Possible to Terminate the Professional Football Player Contract Due to Covid-19 Outbreak?
Professional Football Player Contracts are contracts that cause continuous performance debt. The termination of the contract by the parties depends on the existence of the justified reason. In this regard, the failure of sports clubs to pay their football players due to Covid-19 outbreak will not constitute a just cause for the player.
On the other hand, the fact that the sports club waits for the performance of the debt from the player due to force majeure will not constitute a just cause for the club.
However, if the leagues are decided to be registered or cancelled in their current form, there will be the impossibility of performance, and in this case, the termination of the contract may be in question based on force majeure.
- Evaluation of the Recommendations Taken by FIFA in the Context of Contract Law with respect to Covid-19
As a rule, in disputes arising from contracts between the sports club in Turkey and foreign players, the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (Dispute Resolution Chamber “DRC”) is authorized.
Pursuant to Article 25, paragraph 6 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players; DRC makes its decisions taking into account all relevant regulations, laws and/or collective bargaining agreements at the local level, as well as the characteristics of the sport and in accordance with the FIFA Statute and other instructions.
In this context, DRC and ultimately CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) will be responsible for disputes between foreign players and sports clubs due to force majeure caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.
However, FIFA’s recommendations regarding the epidemic process are not binding for sports clubs and football players.
The coronavirus global epidemic continues to spread rapidly both in the world and in our country. While having destructive effects in all sectors, the football sector and its economy have been also affected by this process.
The force majeure caused by the Covid-19 outbreak concerns both sports clubs and football players. For this reason, the parties need to pursue an agreement with mutual negotiation in the performance of mutual rights and obligations within the context of the professional football player contract, in order to protect the balance of interests.
If it is decided to reduce in the wages of the players, it will make the process easier to negotiate with each player individually, to obtain the consent of the players in this regard, and to sign a protocol with each player individually by the club. The parties should also receive professional legal support in these matters.
However, it is important to carefully examine the terms of the contract and to decide on the force majeure event, especially in case of disputes between the parties regarding the payment of footballer’s receivables.
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