Tools of the trade in football

Tools of the trade

What is meant by tools of the trade?

The concept of tools of the trade in sport is that an individual participating in a team sport will be able to be in control of the specific tools which he needs to adequately perform his trade. For example in football the specific boots worn by an individual player and also the gloves worn by an individual goalkeeper will be regarded as their tools of the trade.

Why is this an issue in the context of football?

This has become an increasingly important issue due to the huge amounts of revenue which comes into football through sponsorship agreements. For example the team kit will be manufactured by a specific sportswear brand. This same sportswear brand will also manufacture such things as football boots worn by players, but so will their competitors.

If players are free to choose the boots which they wear then this may produce the situation whereby players wearing the team strip manufactured by a certain company will also be wearing boots manufactured by their competitors.

The sponsorship of individual players

As players are deemed to be free to choose the tools of their trade there has developed an extremely lucrative market in player sponsorship whereby a specific company sponsors that player in order for the player to wear boots made by that company.

Would an international team be able to insist on the type of football boots worn by the players?

This is a situation which has occurred twice previously. Most recently this happened when it was stated that all players playing for the German national team would be required to wear adidas boots as the German team was sponsored by adidas. Any players refusing to wear these boots would not be able to be selected by the national team.

What are the potential legal difficulties with this kind of position?

Different legal issues will become apparent depending on whether the player decides to do one of the following:

  • Agrees with the proposal from the national governing body
  • Disagrees with the proposal from the national governing body

Legal issues if a player agrees to the proposal

If a player would agree to these terms then it would be deemed that the player has involuntarily breached the terms of his individual sponsorship deal. Furthermore this could also lead to an inducement to breach the contract on behalf of the national governing body.

Legal issues if a player does not agree to the proposal

If a player is not prepared to breach his individual agreement and refuses to play this could potentially lead to issues involved with damages. The company sponsoring the individual could potentially claim damages from the national governing body due to reduction of value of the individual deal through lack of exposure. The individual player involved could also potentially claim damages from the national governing body on the grounds of loss of opportunity to play international football.

Has such a case ever gone to court?

The recent example of the German Federation was not ever put in place but there has been a similar case which has gone all the way to the courts.

What happened in this case?

A case on similar facts involves the Dutch FA (KNVB) where it was held that they could not impose such rules on their players as there had been no prior consultation concerning the change in procedure and due to the financial benefit only being enjoyed by the KNVB.

It is likely that if a similar case came to court again a similar decision would be found.

How can this issue be solved legally?

Under the laws of England and Wales this issue would have to be solved in the realms of contract law. In terms of the sponsorship contracts with the national governing body and the individual players but also concerning the contracts which involve the players playing for the national team.