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Over the last few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the focus of a steady debate in the sports world, particularly in the soccer sector. The debate is about the legal consequences of this crisis, particularly for sport competitions and player contracts (employment agreements).

As announced on the blog, FIFA established a working group made up of FIFA and FIFPRO members, and representatives of confederations and clubs. The working group’s purpose is to prepare a set of guidelines addressing the most significant soccer-related issues to ensure a harmonized response. Yesterday, FIFA published the conclusions on how to address COVID-19. These focus on three core matters:

  • duration of player contracts;
  • recommendations for clubs and players aimed at mitigating the consequences of COVID-19 during suspension of competitions; and 
  • aspects related to “transfer windows.” 

Regarding (i) and (ii) above, these FIFA guidelines are non-binding interpretative guidance.

Regarding (i), article 18 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (“RSTP”) establishes that most contracts will expire on the end date of seasons.  Most national competitions will not end on the original finishing date. Therefore, to ensure the integrity of football competitions, FIFA suggests that contracts be extended until the new season end date. FIFA also establishes that the contracts due to start on July 1 be extended until the 2020-2021 season start date. 

In the case of overlapping seasons or periods, FIFA suggests to prioritize the players’ former club to complete the season with their original squad unless the parties agree otherwise. This is to safeguard the integrity of national leagues, and member-federation and continental competitions.

In the second set of the working group guidelines, there are proposals related to the financial situation resulting from the crisis. During suspension of competitions due to COVID-19, FIFA encourages clubs and employees to agree on appropriate collective agreements regarding employment conditions on a club or league basis. According to FIFA, aspects to be included in these agreements are as follows: remuneration (including, where appropriate, salary deferrals or limitations and protection mechanisms) and other benefits, government aid programs and conditions during contract extensions.

FIFA also wants to avoid that, internationally, football stakeholders receive different treatment or resolutions from national judicial authorities, employment tribunals and FIFA judicial bodies. FIFA offers to mediate between the parties if clubs and players do not reach an agreement, and it will consider, among others, the following aspects: the club’s economic situation, the attempted agreements, the proportionality of player contract amendments, the net income of players after contract amendments and whether players receive equitable treatment.

As for “transfer windows” and registration periods, FIFA considers necessary to adapt the regulations to the current crisis. Therefore, FIFA allows member federations to amend registration periods and season dates. FIFA proposes to approve all requests to extend the current season end date and all requests to extend or amend “transfer windows,” if they do not exceed the 16-week limit established in the RSTP.

Also, FIFA postpones the entry into force (planned for the 2020-2021 season) of the RSTP amendments regarding the limitation of player loans.

Given the exceptional situation for soccer, FIFA announced this set of proposals to establish coordinated measures to ensure the future stability of world soccer. However, let us see how these issues unfold both nationally and internationally, because employment matters are subject to national legislation.

Author: Lidia Margareto

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lidia.margareto@cuatrecasas.com