In October 2023, the international Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”), found in favour of Glacis United FC, in their appeal against the decision reached by FIFA (“FIFA Decision”).
The original FIFA Decision accepted the claim made by the player, who had alleged that his contract was terminated by Glacis, without just cause. As a result, Glacis was ordered to pay compensation to the player for the breach of contract.
On the 16th December 2022, the grounds of the FIFA Decision were notified to the parties. Glacis subsequently instructed ISOLAS LLP to submit its statement of appeal to the CAS, in accordance with the Code of Sports-related Arbitration (“CAS Code”) challenging the FIFA Decision.
The appeal was a first of its kind since Gibraltar’s admission into FIFA in 2016. Never had a dispute involving a local football club and one its players reach the CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The object of the CAS appeal was to challenge the FIFA Decision, which ordered Glacis to pay compensation for breach of contract. Glacis’ main argument was that the player had been released from his contract, at the player’s own request, so that he could depart to a new club.
In accordance with rules of the CAS Code, the CAS appointed arbitrator had full power to review both the facts and the law, that was the subject of the appeal. On 8 May 2023, a hearing was held at the CAS to adjudicate on the matter, attended by the parties via videoconference.
In returning its decision, the CAS took the view that the employment contract between Glacis and the player had not been terminated without just cause, and therefore, ruled in favour of Glacis.
The CAS subsequently awarded that the player was not entitled to receive any compensation, as initially ordered by the FIFA Decision. The CAS also awarded a contribution towards the legal fees incurred by Glacis for the expense incurred in submitting its appeal. Finally, it was also determined that the costs of the arbitration proceedings would be entirely borne by the player.
In short, although the decision of the CAS appeal largely came down to a dispute on the facts, the decision reached, nevertheless, served to reinforce the legal doctrine already established by FIFA, when determining the status of a player, as either an amateur or professional. On this point, both the CAS and FIFA, confirmed that they would make such a determination, by applying the definitions of an amateur and professional, as contained under FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfers of Players (“RSTP”).
In contrast to the RSTP definition of a professional player, in Gibraltar, players who are deemed to be professionals, require to be listed with the Department of Employment in Gibraltar, as a professional. Now, whether such local requirements are complied with, is not of a concern to FIFA, or indeed the CAS. In fact, irrespective of any additional local requirements that may apply, when determining whether a player is a professional or an amateur, FIFA will only be concerned in applying the definition contained in Article 2 of the FIFA RSTP, which provides as follows:
‘…a professional is a player who has a written contract with a club and is paid more for his footballing activity than the expenses he effectively incurs’.
What this means is, that if a player is being paid £1,200 a month for his footballing activity and has related travel and living expenses that only amount to say £500 a month, then according to the RSTP definition, such a player could be deemed to be professional and not an amateur. These criteria will be applied in determining the relevant status of the football player, irrespective of the fact that both a club and player may have agreed to register as an amateur.
The decision also highlights the fact that both players and clubs alike, have the right to submit their disputes to FIFA and subsequently appeal that decision to the CAS. Even in circumstances where a contract between a player and a football club contains a condition that disputes are to be handled in a particular manner, such conditions shall not prevent a player or club from going directly to FIFA instead. Evidently, a player and football club’s recourse to submit their disputes to FIFA, is inalienable.
This decision is a reminder of the importance for local football clubs and players to be fully aware of their rights, which in particular, includes the right to take disputes to international bodies such as FIFA and the CAS, both of which form an integral part in the global governance of football.
The Hon Giovanni Origo MP said: ‘It has been a privilege to successfully represent a local football club in a contractual dispute, taking centre stage at an international dispute forum, such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.’
Associate Giovanni Origo of ISOLAS LLP led the CAS appeal on behalf of Glacis United FC. Giovanni has developed an extensive legal background and expertise in sports-related disputes. Together with Partner Steven Caetano, Giovanni has regularly advised local football clubs in Gibraltar with respect to all sporting-related matters. Giovanni was also appointed as the first Gibraltar Football Association’s independent Disciplinary Inspector from the commencement of the 2022/2023 Gibraltar Men’s Premier Division.