A FIFA Working Group is reportedly considering whether, in response to COVID-19, the FIFA Regs on the Status and Transfer of Players should be amended. A number of “guiding principles” for national FAs and stakeholders have been mooted, with the current situation viewed as a force majeure issue for FIFA / football. It’s important to emphasise that there has not yet been an official announcement from FIFA, but it’s understood that amongst the proposals being considered are:
- Contracts due to expire on 30 June should instead expire at the actual (revised) end of the season;
- Contracts due to commence on 1 July should be delayed until the new start date of nextseason;
- Transfer agreements should be delayed until the new start date of next season (and payments due before then should be delayed accordingly;
- Clubs and employees should be encouraged to work together to agree on the potential deferral /reduction of salaries whilst the crisis halts football;
- Alternatively, employment contracts should be suspended “provided adequate alternative income support arrangements” are available / implemented for employees;
- All FAs should be permitted to extend this season’s finishing date;
- All FAs should be permitted to extend/amend registration periods (so that the summer transfer window can fit around revised season dates); and
- FIFA has also developed guiding principles for myriad further issues, inc termination of loans, unilateral termination, refusal to report for work, etc.
It remains to be seen what principles FIFA decides to announce formally. As the sport’s world governing body, it understandably favours a harmonised response, but herein lies the problem: it has 211 national FAs as members. That’s 211 sets of potentially different national laws, notably employment laws, which govern or at least affect employment contracts.
Whilst FIFA can permit or even advise FAs to alter dates of transfer windows, and the date this season expires and next season commences, under English law, FIFA (or The FA) cannot compel an employee to work against their will or enter a renewed/extended contract – players’ contracts expire on 30 June, not when the season ends. If a player’s contract is to be extended, the player’s agreement would be required.
Likewise, PL/EFL playing contracts do not contain force majeure provisions or entitle the club to suspend the contract.
Whilst FIFA will feel it’s incumbent upon it to recommend guiding principles, their inevitable inconsistency with some national laws will likely be, in certain areas, stark.