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COVID-19: the impact on players’ contractual rights & obligations (key principles from case law)

Football Players
Monday, 30 March 2020 By Luka Milanovic, Dr. Vesna Bergant Rakocevic

It has been two months since the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) postponed subsequent games of its 2019-20 season following the coronavirus outbreak.[1] Three weeks later, the Chinese Super League (football) followed the same path and indefinitely suspended league play that was due to start on 22 February.[2] Many foreign players and coaches have departed China and returned home. In the days and weeks that have followed, coronavirus has spread throughout the world and caused an (almost[3]) total “shutdown” of sport.

Sport organisations, leagues, and clubs are and will be facing severe financial challenges as they work to overcome a significant loss of income, and may be headed toward financial instability caused by COVID-19’s impacts on commerce, employment, sponsorships, and our everyday life. Many sport clubs will not be able to cope with lucrative player contracts and will seek their mutual or unilateral termination.

Here, the authors provide a general commentary on how things stand in these unique and ever-evolving times in regard to players’ contractual rights and obligations. First, the authors will examine whether coronavirus threat can be interpreted as force majeure – a legally accepted justification for the non-compliance with an obligation (e.g. non-payment of players’ salaries during the hiatus of sports competitions). Second, several different scenarios will be addressed relating to a player’s basic right to be compensated for their services. Finally, we ask what happens if players refuse to play due to a risk of infection:  is it justifiable or would it be a legal ground for contractual penalties or even termination?

Specifically, the article examines:

  • The legal concept of force majeure
    • What is the general concept of force majeure?
    • Does the coronavirus pandemic constitute force majeure?
    • How significant is the moment of declaring a pandemic?
    • How crucial is the existence of force majeure contractual clause?
    • What is the experience of sports tribunals with cases of force majeure?
  • Players’ rights to be compensated
  • Players’ refusal to play due to a risk of infection

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About the Author

Luka Milanovic

Luka Milanovic

Luka Milanović represents and advises Slovenian and international clients in sports-related cases before sports arbitration tribunals (e.g., before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Basketball Arbitral Tribunal (BAT), FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC)). As a former FIBA Agent license holder Luka has great access to a global network in sport. 

Luka's work includes sports and legal representation, in particular advising clients on the drafting of contracts as well as representing clients in damage compensation cases. Furthermore, Luka is a legal advisor to the Slovenian Basketball Coaches Association and a legal counsel for EuroLeague Players Association (ELPA). 

Luka holds a master of laws degree from the University of Ljubljana. He is currently employed at the Ljubljana Higher Court. He was a trainee at Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein in Frankfurt, Germany and Martens Rechtsanwälte in Munich, Germany.

Since 2017 Luka has been a Visiting Lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ljubljana. Luka is fluent in 4 languages. 
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Dr. Vesna Bergant Rakočević

Dr. Vesna Bergant Rakocevic

Dr. Vesna Bergant Rakočević is senior higher judge at the Ljubljana Higher Court and Deputy Chief of the Civil Division as well as Vice-President of the Court.  She graduated and obtained her Ph. D. degree at the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

She is a mentor, trainer judge, supervisor, European Judicial Training Network fellow and multiple expert for the European Commission. She also teaches as invited guest lecturer at the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana civil procedural and arbitration law.

She is an arbitrator at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce and an arbitrator at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), where she has been a member of panels for several different sports (basketball, football, golf, dressage). She is co-author and editor of the only Slovenian scientific monograph in the field of Sports Law. She is fluent in english, serbian and croatian.

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