FIFA issues guidelines to address legal consequences of coronavirus (COVID-19)

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On April 7, 2020, FIFA, the international governing body of football, released a set of recommendations and guidelines aimed at addressing practical issues arising from the disruption caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at all levels of football (the “COVID-19 Guidelines”).

The COVID-19 Guidelines, incorporated in a sixteen-page document, cover players’ contracts and the transfer system generally, and are the result of several meetings held between different stakeholders. During those meetings, three essential matters were addressed:

  • expiring players’ contracts (i.e. contracts terminating at the end of the current football season) and new contracts (i.e. those already executed and which obligations are due to commence at the start of the next football season);
  • players’ employment contracts that the parties can no longer perform as a result of COVID-19; and
  • the appropriate timing for registration periods (“transfer windows”).

1. Expiring players’ contracts and new contracts

In accordance with the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (“RSTP), expiring players’ contracts usually terminate with the end of the relevant football season. While recognizing that, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all football competitions are being suspended worldwide, and thus the current football season will not end as initially planned, the COVID-19 Guidelines propose that players’ employment contracts are extended until such time in which the football season will actually end. In issuing this recommendation, FIFA acknowledges that this should be in line with the original intention of the parties involved when the relevant employment contracts were entered into. In addition, the COVID-19 Guidelines point out that similar principles would apply to employment agreements due to begin at the beginning of the next new football season. Therefore, the relevant employment agreements will enter into force whenever the next football season will actually commence.

2. Players’ employment contracts that the parties can no longer perform

FIFA recognizes that the coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on the revenues of football clubs, and encourages clubs and players to work jointly to find agreements and solutions during the period in which football activities are suspended. In doing so, FIFA acknowledges that it is primarily up to the relevant parties at national level to find solutions in consistency with the laws and regulations of their own jurisdiction. Moreover, FIFA recommends an in-depth analysis of all aspects of each situation at hand.

Nevertheless, should the relevant parties be unable to reach an agreement and, as a consequence thereof, matters were to be addressed to FIFA for its evaluation, the factors to be examined – in the hope of finding solutions that are fair and balanced for both sides – will include the following:

- whether the club genuinely attempted to reach an agreement with the players;
- the economic situation of the club;
- the proportionality of any adjustment to players’ contracts;
- the net income position of players after any contract adjustment; and
- whether the players have been treated on an equal basis.

3. Transfer windows

FIFA acknowledges that, with reference to transfer windows, the normal regulatory position should be adjusted to the new factual circumstances at hand. With this in mind, FIFA will allow the relevant transfer windows to be moved so they fall between the end of the old football season and the start of the new one.

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