Wellington Phoenix has been ordered to pay former player Lei LeiGao NZ$52,177.46 after the Australian National Dispute Resolution Chamber (NDRC) found that the club did not have just cause to terminate its playing contract with the Chinese star in November 2008. The compensation award is for the balance of the payments due to Lei Lei from the date of termination until the expiry date of his contract.

Phoenix had argued that the termination of Lei Lei’s contract was for just cause, due to its concerns over the player’s conduct and allegations that he had breached a number of provisions of the club’s code of conduct, including the failure to attend training sessions, allegations regarding the player’s punctuality, involvement in an altercation with a fellow player at training and a failure to wear prescribed apparel.

In a 25 page judgment, the NDRC held that:

  • the Football Federation Australia Code of Conduct has primacy over the club’s code of conduct;
  • despite the club having served a number of notices on the player over his alleged misconduct, the club had, in effect, summarily dismissed the player by an email sent on 18 November 2008;
  • a club is not entitled to summarily dismiss a player under the A-League Standard Player Contract. Importantly, the club did not afford the player procedural fairness in relation to the purported dismissal as required by the prescribed A-League employment conditions and New Zealand law; and
  • a club may only terminate a player’s contract if one of the following conditions is made out:

o    the player has committed a breach of a material term of the contract which is not capable of being remedied;

o    the player is guilty of proven serious misconduct; or

o    the termination is justified in accordance with the FFA Code of Conduct.

PFA Chief Executive Brendan Schwab welcomed the decision of the NDRC.

“The decision confirms that clubs must meet two conditions in order to terminate a player’s contract where it asserts the player is in breach,” Schwab said.  “First, the club must have just cause.  Second, the club must afford the player procedural fairness.  Neither of these instances existed in Lei Lei’s case.”

“The NDRC also made a number of important observations about the management of club/player relations, with clubs being encouraged to resolve issues by discussion.  Many contractual breaches by players are best remedied through discussion and, if necessary, recourse to sanctions available under the FFA Code of Conduct.”

“It is unfortunate that this case resulted in the player being denied the opportunity to complete his contract in the A-League.  Financial compensation is never enough when a player has the opportunity to exercise his trade taken from him for no good reason,” Schwab added.

Wellington Phoenix has 60 days to comply with the NDRC’s decision.

The case is the first for a foreign player in Australia to be referred to Australia’s NDRC, which has been established in accordance with FIFA regulations by the A-League Collective Bargaining Agreement between FFA and the PFA.  The establishment of the NDRC in Australia means that both foreign and local players have access to a grievance procedure that sees disputes resolved in accordance with FIFA regulations and the CBA by a panel of arbitrators appointed by FFA and the PFA.  The NDRC is chaired by Peter Tredinnick, a partner in a leading Sydney law firm and a former Socceroo.