As there are no specific laws in relation to sport imposed by Government agencies it is often up to the governing body of that particular sport to judge on when a breach of their rules has occurred and accordingly what should be the appropriate punishment for the parties involved.
FIFA is the world governing body of regulation football and often has to provide rules and regulations which all football clubs which are governed by a Member Association of FIFA have to adhere to. For example the Football Association is a Member Association of FIFA so therefore the FA has to ensure that its clubs adhere to the specific rules laid down by FIFA.
Legal interference with the decisions of FIFA
In certain cases the rules and regulations stated by FIFA are held to be in contravention of legal rights of the individual football players. This has been particularly apparent when the European Union has felt that the transfer rules may infringe the rights guaranteed by European Union law of the individuals participating in the sport. The best example of this being the notorious Bosman case. In cases such as this they will step in and bring a case against the governing body of that particular sport.
In certain cases the decisions of FIFA will be open to challenge simply because those involved feel they are disproportionate to the offence committed.
Decisions of FIFA in relation to transfers
Following the decision of the European Union in the Bosman case there have been significant problems experienced by the smaller clubs in losing their players without receiving adequate compensation.
Therefore FIFA has been keen to provide these smaller clubs with more protection. These decisions are provided by the FIFA disciplinary committee are adjudicated upon when one club makes a complaint to FIFA regarding another club.
Recent ban on transfers
During the last year an English FA Premier League club was handed down a sanction by the FIFA disciplinary committee in relation to the signing of a 17 year-old player from a French club. The player was said to have breached his contract with his existing club and was induced to do so by his new club.
Difference between various European Countries
This was possible as clubs in England are able to sign players on a professional contract prior to their 18th birthday whereas clubs on the continent playing in such countries as France are unable to sign players on a professional contract until they turn 18. In practice this means that English clubs are able to sign players who have grown up at a foreign club before the foreign club can and in doing so exercising a tactic known as poaching.
If the player was not under a professional contract then how could it have been held that he breached his contract with the French club?
The player was under a youth training contract with his original club which is said to be the contract which he was to have broken and was induced into by the English club.
What is meant by an inducement to breach a contract?
Inducement to breach a contract happens when there is a contract between two existing parties, in this case the player and his club. For inducement to occur a third party must persuade that contract to be broken by providing some kind of offer, in the case of football it is often the opportunity to play for a bigger club and as always the offer of more money. That is what was argued by the French club in this case.
What sanctions were imposed by FIFA?
FIFA imposed sanctions on both the English club and the player. The club was fined in order to compensate the French club and more importantly became the subject of a ban on any transfer dealings until 2011.
The player too was required to pay a fine in order to compensate the club who had nurtured him for many years.
Is there a right to appeal these kinds of decisions?
The FIFA disciplinary committee does not provide an internal right of appeal in relation to its decisions but there is the possibility for an external appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). In this case the transfer ban was temporarily lifted pending the decision of the CAS.
What was the result of the appeal to the CAS?
Before the Court of Arbitration for Sport both parties came to a mutual agreement that the original contract with the French club was not a valid contract and therefore there could be no breach of a contract that did not exist and consequently no inducement to breach the contract.
The English club did pay the French club some compensation but this was clearly stated that it was simply an act of good faith with a view to the possibility of future collaboration between the two clubs, without recognising any liability, in order to pay compensation costs for the training given to the player while at his original club and as required by FIFA in its original ruling.
Does this case set a precedent for club who behave in this manner?
The outcome of this case is clearly satisfactory for both clubs involved and the player as there is no ban and the French club has been compensated. It does little, however, to set a precedent in relation to the behaviour of bigger clubs in inducing players to break and existing contract. FIFA will still wish to protect the interests of the smaller clubs in receiving adequate compensation but it is difficult to know whether they will impose a transfer ban and run the risk of the decision once again being overturned by the CAS.
If another case of this type is again to occur then more guidelines concerning the validity of contracts involving young players must surely set a precedent on when these contracts can be broken.