A Practical Approach towards a Sport Dispute

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This article was written by Dr Stephen Muscat and Dr Daniel Cutajar

Sports and Contract Law go very much hand in hand. In most sports, athletes and their club are bound to each other by a contract. Contractual disputes often arise as honouring the contractual relationship is not always plain sailing. Specifically, in a footballer-football club relationship, a player normally signs a contract with a club for an agreed period, to train with the club and represent it in competitions, whilst in turn, receiving pecuniary compensation for it. However, it often occurs that the one of the parties, or both, may want to cut ties with each other for various reasons. The player may want to accept a more lucrative offer from another club, or the club may want to sell the player to raise finances. As a result of cutting the contractual relationship short, the club is usually compensated financially by the club who is engaging the player's services, and the player is also usually compensated by that same club through a wage.

The dispute Mamo TCV was tasked to deal with revolved around the Maltese football youth system, which has a similar concept to the above, albeit with significant differences. Rather than dealing with contracts, we deal with registrations, and players do not usually earn pecuniary compensation for playing with the club. The objective was to facilitate an U-15 player to transfer from the club he was registered with, prior to the end of the period he had been registered for. The regulations governing such a situation are Section IV of the Malta Football Association (MFA) Regulations, named the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players. They form part of a set of autonomous regulations created by the MFA, which regulate the workings of the clubs and players within it.

The youth player in question was bound by a registration with the club in terms of Regulation 3.1.4 of Section IV, after signing a registration form at the age of 12. The mentioned registration constrains a player to play with the club until the end of the last season in which he is eligible to play in the U-15 competition. In simpler terms, it would bind him till the end of this season. After that, the player is expected to sign another registration form, referred to as Registration of an Amateur Player, binding him till the end of the season which starts during the year in which he turns 18, that being Season 2025/2026. The crux of the issue stemmed from the fact that the client's registration tied him with the club until the end of this Season 2021/2022, making it difficult for him to transfer prior to that. Fortunately, there were two caveats, which however, put the ball in the club's court. The club may have either allowed him to transfer on a loan basis (on a temporary basis) to another club till the end of the season, or it may have let him leave in a definite manner if any interested club was willing to accept the transfer fee they requested.

While the club did not wish to let the player transfer to another club, it was open to letting him leave on loan until the end of this season. However, this would have come at an expense. Considering that his registration would have expired at the end of this season, making him a free agent, the club required him to sign the Registration of an Amateur Player which would have kept him at the club till the 2025/2026 Season. Otherwise, the club would have risked losing the player for free at the end of this season if he had not re-registered with them before leaving on loan. This is something the player did not wish to pursue. At this point, the player got in touch with Mamo TCV with the hope of finding a solution.

Whilst informing him of his position, we advised him that there was surely no way out of his current registration if the club did not wish to cooperate. However, we suggested that the player should negotiate with the club in the hope of reaching a minimal price-tag for a club to pay to secure the services of the player. Taking legal steps would have taken the matter beyond an amicable solution; something which could have only left our client in the club's bad books in the event of not reaching a solution.

To the satisfaction of the player, the club requested a reasonable fee, which another club was willing to pay to secure his signature. Consequently, he was able to sign the Registration of an Amateur Player, binding him to his new club till the end of 2025/2026.


Disclaimer

This document does not purport to give legal, financial or tax advice. Should you require further information or legal assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Stephen Muscat and Dr Daniel Cutajar.

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