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Landmark ruling on footballers’ terms of employment

October 2009 - Employment. Legal Developments by Norrbom Vinding Law Firm, member of ius laboris.

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The collective agreement between players and clubs not binding on the Danish Football Association (DBU) 01-10-2009

Mariann Norrbom
mn@norrbomvinding.com

The Danish Supreme Court found in favour of the Danish Football Association (DBU) in a landmark ruling on footballers' terms and conditions yesterday

 

The case centred on the question of who has the ultimate authority to set professional footballers' terms of employment in Denmark. And, like the High Court, the Supreme Court ruled that the Danish Football Association has the authority to set out employment terms and conditions for Danish footballers in what is known as the standard player contract.

The standard player contract

In the late 1970s when professional football was introduced in Denmark, the Danish Football Association issued a standard contract to be used by all professional footballers in order to play in Denmark. The contract was introduced to set out some basic minimum standards for all footballers and ensure compliance with the rules and regulations of the Danish Football Association as well as the rules and regulations of UEFA (the European football association) and FIFA (the international football association).

The contract contains a number of provisions which govern footballers' terms and conditions, but also allows individual clubs and players some latitude in agreeing pay and similar terms.

The collective agreement

In 1999, the Danish Players' Union and the Danish League Association, which represents the Danish football league clubs, signed a collective agreement. But the collective agreement later turned out to conflict with the standard player contract on a few points. The Danish Players' Union therefore issued proceedings in 2003, claiming that the Danish Football Association must abide by the collective agreement and therefore could not set out conflicting provisions in the standard player contract.

The Danish Football Association on its part submitted among other things that it was not bound by a collective agreement it was not party to and that the provisions of the collective agreement had been incorporated into the standard player contract to a large extent, but that the collective agreement could not be incorporated in its entirety.

The Danish Football Association prevailed

The Danish Football Association prevailed in the Supreme Court. The Court said that the Danish League Association, the individual clubs and the individual players are covered by the Danish Football Association's rules and regulations and that when the standard player contract was drawn up, the Danish Football Association had taken into account the provisions of the collective agreement to a large extent even though it was not required to do so.

The Supreme Court thus agreed with the High Court that the collective agreement does not bind the Danish Football Association, which is not party to it. And neither the FIFA or UEFA rules and regulations nor article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights on freedom of association changed that. The Supreme Court thus upheld the High Court's judgment.

The Danish Football Association was represented by Norrbom Vinding in the High Court and in the Supreme Court.

 

Norrbom Vinding notes: 

  • that the ruling affirms the Danish Football Association's authority under its by-laws to set out binding terms of employment for footballers, notwithstanding any conflicting provisions in a collective agreement; and
  • that there is no basis in Danish football, either, for departing from the general labour law principle that a collective agreement will be binding only on its parties and their members.

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