Matthew Astley and Hannah Pike, of Harrison Drury’s sports sector team, consider the FIFA Council’s recent decision to approve landmark reforms to better protect football coaches and female players.
Due to increased development and participation in women’s football, and the growth and success of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has recognised a need to “adopt a regulatory framework that is appropriate and suitable to the needs of the women’s game”. He has also accepted that coaches have been left out of the football regulatory framework, despite playing a vital role in the game.
In light of this, in November 2020, the FIFA Football Stakeholders Committee unanimously proposed a number of reforms to the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players. These were approved by the FIFA Council on 4 December 2020.
The new rules came into effect on 1 January 2021. The rules aim to strengthen employment protections for football coaches and female players by establishing minimum standards of working conditions. Each FIFA Member Association is able to offer enhanced rights and protections in accordance with national laws. Member Associations must implement the new rules by no later than 30 June 2021.
Working conditions for female players
The new rules, as outlined in the reformed regulations, seek to establish better working conditions for female players, in particular in relation to maternity rights and pay. Further details of the reforms include:
- Female players are now entitled to maternity leave comprising at least 14 weeks’ paid absence, including at least 8 weeks after childbirth, at a minimum of two-thirds of their contracted salary. This is the minimum entitlement and only applies in the absence of more beneficial conditions provided by national legislation or a collective bargaining agreement.
- The validity of a contract may not be made subject to a player being or becoming pregnant during its term, being on maternity leave or utilising rights related to maternity leave.
- The new provisions recognise that a female player should not suffer a disadvantage as a result of being pregnant. Clubs that unilaterally terminate a player’s contract on the grounds of pregnancy will incur sporting sanctions, fines and pay compensation to the player for ending a contract without just cause. Potential sporting sanctions include transfer bans.
- The reforms introduce a new exception to the rules regarding registration periods. A new female player may be registered outside of a registration period to temporarily replace a player who is taking maternity leave. Players who have completed a period of maternity leave are also allowed to register outside of the registration period. The duration of the temporary player’s contract begins from the date of registration until the day prior to the start of the first registration period after the return of the player who was on maternity leave, unless mutually agreed otherwise.
- Players who become pregnant can continue to provide services to their club, and clubs have an obligation to respect this decision and formalise a plan for continued sporting participation in a safe manner. Female players also have the right to provide services to the club in an alternative manner. Clubs are obliged to respect this and work with pregnant players to formalise a plan for alternative employment if they choose not (or if it is unsafe) to continue providing sporting services to the club. Players can independently determine the commencement date of maternity leave, and any club that pressurises or forces a player to take maternity leave will be sanctioned by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee.Female players also have the right to return to football activity after the completion of their maternity leave and clubs have a duty to reintegrate them into football activity and provide adequate ongoing medical support. Clubs must also provide suitable facilities, as under the new rules, players who are nursing mothers are provided the opportunity to breastfeed or express milk whilst providing sporting services to the club.
Regulatory framework for coaches
The reforms include new regulations for football coaches to establish a minimum standard in relation to their employment contracts. The new regulations provide clarity on what content is required in such contracts and seek to encourage contractual stability.
The regulations also require clubs and associations to “comply with their financial obligations towards coaches” under the terms stipulated in their contracts.
Next steps for football clubs
The FIFA reforms support female players in being able to earn a living playing football whilst having a family life, guarantee minimum standards for working conditions and “provide coaches with the same legal certainty and clarity that is afforded to players”.
Whilst many female players may be entitled to some greater maternity rights under applicable national law or pursuant to their contracts of employment, the new rules are likely to have a great effect on women’s teams and clubs in England. It is important that clubs ensure they review and, as necessary, implement or update appropriate policies, procedures and contracts to clearly set out players’ and coaches’ obligations, rights and entitlements.
Harrison Drury’s sports sector team can assist athletes, clubs and sports governing bodies with employment-related and dispute resolution matters. For more information, please contact Matthew Astley or Hannah Pike on 01772 258321.