The World Cup, Injuries and Compensation

Published 19 July 2010

The World Cup, Injuries and Compensation

In this article Daniel Geey reviews the legal issues surrounding player participation at the World Cup and other national team football tournaments. Some interesting legal questions that have arisen in the past few years.

Many of the issues discussed below demonstrate the tension that exists between clubs who pay a players salary and the national teams who select that player for international duty. The topics discussed below include debates about:

  • who should pay the wages of a player if they get injured whilst on international duty;
  • whether individual associations like the English Football Association (the FA) should take out insurance against player injury;
  • and how much compensation (if any) should clubs receive whilst their players play in international competitions like the World Cup.
 
Player Injuries During International Duty


Clubs had for many years protested that they should receive compensation for releasing their players to represent their respective countries in international matches. National associations had traditionally rejected the idea of paying clubs to use their players when playing for their country. An important case occurred in 2004 which proved the catalyst for change in this area of disagreement between clubs and national associations. The case concerned football player Abdelmajid Oulmers. In November 2004, whilst playing for Morocco against Burkina Faso, Mr Oulmers was injured and was unable to play football for eight months. His club, Sporting Charleroi, blamed the loss of the player as the reason for failure to win their domestic championship. Understanding the issue was of major importance to all clubs throughout Europe, an association called the G14 supported Sporting Charleroi in a compensation claim against FIFA for the injured Oulmers.

By way of background, the G14 was formed in September 2000 by fourteen of Europe’s top clubs. It had no official authority in the footballing world and had been seen by UEFA as an unofficial pressure group that provided clubs with a powerful collective voice. The G14 was founded as a consequence of the dissatisfaction felt by the founding clubs with UEFA and a feeling that clubs should be represented within the formal UEFA decision making process so that they would be consulted before UEFA made decisions affecting them.

The G14 further claimed a huge €860m in damages and compensation for the costs that had not been paid to clubs whose players had been representing their country for free whilst the clubs continued to pay their wages.

In January 2008 as a result of negotiation on the part of UEFA, FIFA and the G14, the clubs that formed part of the G14 agreed to disband the organisation and replace it with a new association called the European Club Association (ECA). At the same time it was agreed between UEFA, FIFA and the G14/ECA, that all outstanding lawsuits (including the Oulmers case) would to be brought to an end. It meant that a court did not make a final decision on the case. 

Both parties viewed the negotiation and transformation of the G14 into the ECA as a big success. FIFA and UEFA now have the comfort that various legal disputes started or supported by the G14 clubs would be dropped whilst the clubs, from the Euro 2008 tournament, were guaranteed to receive compensation for releasing their players. Many believe that the most significant part of the G14/ECA deal with UEFA and FIFA was the significant compensation paid to clubs for its players participating in FIFA and UEFA sanctioned Finals Tournaments.

The agreement entitles compensation to be paid to the clubs for their players’ participation in international tournaments. It should be stressed that the compensation payable by UEFA and/or FIFA to clubs does not however cover situations when a player is injured when playing for his country. The case of Michael Essien, explained below, is a recent example of this ongoing issue. For Euro 2008, UEFA agreed that clubs who released players should be paid up to £3,000 per player per day in compensation. Money was only paid to clubs for the finals tournaments and not for qualifying matches.

Additionally whilst UEFA said that Euro 2008 was worth more than £32million to clubs, Euro 2012 is expected to be worth in excess of £40million. UEFA President Michel Platini said "Clubs who provide UEFA and FIFA with certain amounts of money through these players should get some compensation and share in these profits". 

It has been reported that the 2010South African World Cup will see a total of €26 million being paid to domestic clubs, amounting to just over €1,000 per player per day. This figure is set to increase for the 2014 Brazil World Cup to around $70m. Michael Gerlinger, a lawyer for German team Bayern Munich, explained that the German club had received €1m for releasing its stars to play in Euro 2008. 

Injury Insurance

As mentioned above, whilst FIFA and UEFA appear now to be paying compensation to clubs for releasing them to play in World Cup Finals and European Championship Finals Tournaments, there is no comprehensive mechanism currently in place for compensation if a player gets injured on international duty. The recent example of the Togo national team being shot at in the build up to the African Cup of Nations tournament illustrates a very serious issue. If Emmanuel Adebayor had been injured in the terrorist attack would Manchester City or Togo have been liable to pay his wages? In most cases this would depend on whether the national association has an insurance policy to cover such eventualities. Many national associations explain that such insurance policies are too expensive. This can leave top European players whose transfer value may be around €10m-€20m and who are paid €100,000 per week without insurance when playing international matches. The obvious safety net is for the club to insure the player for when he plays for his country. 

It was reported that when Michael Owen was injured at the 2006 World Cup, Newcastle, his club at the time, received £10m in compensation. Owen missed almost the entire following Premier League season. Newcastle received the compensation because the English FA had an insurance policy in place to cover his wages should he or other members of the English national team be injured during the tournament. Many national associations however do not have player injury insurance in place.

In a similar case, Michael Essien the Chelsea midfielder suffered knee ligament damage whilst on international duty with the Ghana national team. It was thought that the reason Chelsea did not pursue a compensation claim with the Ghana Football Association was because the Association could not have afforded to pay Essien’s wages (reported to be over £100,000 per week). Some commentators believe that every national team should be compelled to take out insurance for player injuries in order to avoid such situations like the Essien example. 

At present, it is reported that Arsenal are seeking compensation from the Dutch Football Federation. Robin van Persie was injured playing for Holland in a friendly match and was unable to play for Arsenal for around five months. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was adamant that he: “expect[ed] financial compensation for the damage it can make to the championship [prospects] and the salary involved.” He went on to state that “the federations have too much power ahead of the clubs, yet it is the clubs who pay the players’ wages.” 

Conclusion

Whilst clubs like Arsenal, Chelsea and Bayern Munich are all now compensated for releasing their players during a World Cup or European Championship Finals Tournament, there is still much debate about who should insure players whilst they are on international duty, and if they do subsequently get injured, who is liable to compensate the club, for losing that player for a significant amount of time. These are the very same arguments that may have been resolved had the Oulmers case been ruled on. As the ECA, FIFA and UEFA came to a compromise agreement in 2004, there may well be many future disputes between clubs and national associations, when players return injured from international duty. Who pays and who is obliged to take out insurance to cover any risk of injury appears now to be a pressing international issue.

By Daniel Geey (go to www.danielgeey.com for more football law articles)