PFA Player Relations Executive, SanjeevanBalasingam considers that more than a decade after the seminal decision of the European Court of Justice in the case involving Belgian professional, Jean-Marc Bosman, which allowed for players to move for free upon the conclusion of the term of their contract, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has recently handed down a decision that provides players with even greater freedom of employment.

The CAS ruling in the dispute between Scottish international, Andy Webster and Scottish Premier League side, Heart of Midlothian enabled Webster to terminate his contract with the club after the third year of his four-year deal and only pay a compensation to his former employer.

The compensation, which amounted to GBP 150,000 was calculated as being the equivalent to the remuneration remaining due to him under the employment contract upon its date of termination. This figure was deemed by the court as a fair and adequate compensation for the player’s unilateral termination of the contract.

The three person arbitration panel rejected the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber’s award of GBP 625,000 to be payable by Webster to his former club claiming that it was ‘more appropriate to take account of the fact that under a fixed-term employment contract of this nature both parties (club and player) have a similar interest and expectation that the term of the contract will be respected, subject to termination by mutual consent. Thus just as the Player would be entitled in principle to the outstanding remuneration due until expiry of the term of the contract in case of unilateral termination by the club [subject it may be, to mitigation of loss], the club should be entitled to receive an equivalent amount in case of termination by the Player.’

Currently on loan at Glasgow Rangers, the 26 year-old defender left the Edinburgh-based side in 2006, after having served three years of a four-year contract, to join Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League after being sidelined by the Hearts management following a breakdown in contractual negotiations.

The Scottish PFA played a lead role in assisting Webster in this legal wrangle as he successfully relied upon Article 17 (Consequences of terminating a contract without just cause) of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players to breach his contractual obligations with the Scottish team and move to a new club.

The Webster case now ensures that professional players are entitled to similar freedom of movement and contractual rights as the labour force in other sectors of industry not only within the European Union but also globally.

Wil van Megen, a lawyer with FIFPro, the World Players’ Union, welcomed the decision and stated, “This decision is perfectly in line with FIFA Regulations and the FIFA-EU agreement. It respects labour law as well as the specific nature of sport. It is a further normalization in the relationship between a professional player and a club. From now on the market is more transparent and all parties will know where they stand at the end of a protected period.”

The PFA is currently examining the impact of the decision on Australian players including those playing in the A-League.