• Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

BALLPOINT: REMEDIES TO THE LAPSES FOUND IN THE NPFL FRAMEWORK & RULES REGARDING PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL CONTRACTS

The Moustached Journalist says;

Within the oyer and terminer of these legal practitioners, Ogechukwu Miriam Akinsulore and Adedoyin Olusegun Akinsulore, in one of their brilliant legal antitheses Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) Minimum Standard Requirement For Professional Football Contract: Assessing Nigeria’s Compliance apportioned a mainstream of contradictory laws between Nigeria and other footballing nations’ member-association as it relates to professional football contracts in the ever-evolving world of football.

Nigeria’s most followed sport competition, the Nigeria Premier Football League. Photo Credit: Culled from Platinum News.

Football contracts, when unmonitored, are often between parties of unequal status and capacity. The financial and organizational strength of clubs are often leveraged to the advantage of the football clubs while footballers only have their skills set as a bargaining chip – a skill that is open to competition from other football players seeking a contract of employment for the limited space in the club.

The tension that emanates between the business interest of a club and the skill-based interest of a player can often be centrifugal. The interest of the former is naturally profit-oriented based on the commodification of footballers’ skills. The latter, on the other hand, is in pursuit of sporting glory and the fulfilment of a passion and less of the commercial intendment of profiteering.

NPFL legend and Kano Pillars captain Rabiu Ali seen sharing a warm sportsmanlike gesture with Shooting Stars Sports Club youngster Abdullahi Lawal. Photo Credit: Culled from @ShootingSC on X.

To avoid unconscionable contractual terms in professional football contracts, FIFA provides a template for the minimum standards applicable to this type of contract. This minimum standard encompasses dual obligatory requirements expected to be fulfilled by the clubs and the professional footballer respectively.

Contract is a basic feature of business. Sports, specifically football, is a big business where contracts are made between different parties which could be between football clubs and sportswear makers or television broadcasting stations or with professional footballers. For the business of football to run efficiently, a clear-cut statement of the obligations of parties to the contract is a sine qua non for the effective and efficient management of such a trade.

What a strength-demanding header from the Remo Stars forward Olamilekan Adams. Photo Credit: Culled from @RemoStarsSC on X.

Contracts between football clubs and their professional football players are sui generis as this type of contract is regulated by FIFA on all its member federations. This contract stipulates a minimum standard that parties to a football contract must adhere to, such that no party, especially the professional footballer, is unduly shortchanged in their quest to achieve success in their chosen profession.

Beyond the footballer’s quest for sporting glory are rights accruing not just as a human being, but as a professional footballer. There are loud complaints by observers of the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) that FIFA’s minimum standard requirement appears not to operate in Nigeria. Football players signed by the clubs are either not put on a contract or where they are, players cannot enforce them for opacity.

Bendel Insurance midfielder Paul Obata on the offense as he drives into the aerial box of Shooting Stars Sports Club. Photo Credit: Culled from @BendelInsurance on X.

In the NPFL contract of employment, this essential aspect of the contract, therefore, the duties of clubs to its players, is conspicuously absent. In the Estonian and English football employment contract, this aspect is not only present but there are additional obligations placed on the club for the benefit of the player. The absence of this essential provision in the NPFL contract of employment has several implications.

In the transfer quagmire that involved the management of Heartland Football Club and Samuel Nnoshiri in an accused illegal move to Katsina United in the 2020/21 NPFL season, which swiftly generated a heated argument between the two parties as reported by Trumpeta Newspaper.

Former Heartland FC and Katsina United forward Samuel Nnoshiri. Photo Credit: Culled from Trumpeta Newspaper.

Recall that during the season’s break, Heartland FC players were making moves to pitch tents with other clubs owing to the unsavoury welfare package in the club including a backlog of unpaid salaries and bonuses. Just as in the cases of Samuel Nnoshiri and his colleague, Ayo to Katsina United as well as Shedrack Oghali who left for Rivers United were all scattered across the media.

The club at some point equally declared the said player, Samuel Nnoshiri in a press release made available by the then Media Officer, Cosmos Chukwuemeka stating that he still had a subsisting contract that would only expire at the end of the current season and that he was duly paid his sign-on fee which fell on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, the management of Heartland FC in another press release made available at that time by the Media Director, Solomon Onu allegedly claimed they do not know the whereabouts of their most valuable player, but in a swift statement to clear some arguments heating up among the club stakeholders, fans and even sports journalists. The club accused NFF and NPFL of neglecting them during the purported transfer of their player without duly hearing their side of the story in the dealings.

The emblem of Heartland Football Club. Photo Credit: Culled from Trumpeta Newspaper.

However, in another official statement according to the Club’s Licensing Officer, Mr Tonex Chukwu said: “NFF/NPFL owe us and Nigerians an explanation why and how they shut us Heartland FC out in this Nnoshiri’s saga. We have officially protested in words and writing to no avail, thus raising our suspicion that their graveyard silence speaks volumes of their alleged complicity.

“Imagine a contract termination notice that did not get to us, backdated and worse still did not meet the international sporting standards. Recalled that Heartland FC was also denied the right to recruit because of the alleged FIFA transfer ban which according to NPFL/NFF involved the shutting down of the club’s TMS portal, thus not allowing us to sign in new players. The player in question has been on loan with the club for over two seasons.

The 25-year-old Nigerian attacker now ply his trade with Polish outfit, Podbeskidzie. Photo Credit: Culled from Transfermarkt.

“In the 2020/21 league season, he renegotiated and got a year contract valued at N1 million aside from salaries and bonuses, which I can tell he was duly paid his clearance fee and salaries up to February before his sudden disappearance and reemergence in the colours of Katsina United,” he stated.

Firstly, it falls below the standard requirement of FIFA and this may render the contract voidable upon challenge. Secondly, it casts a pall of irresponsibility on the club as the absence of the club obligation can be interpreted to mean that the club does not want to take up necessary minimum obligations towards the player. Thirdly, it could be perceived as an unconscionable practice on the part of the club as they are exploiting the position of strength to the detriment of the player and in utter disregard of FIFA rules.

Sporting Lagos centre-forward Junior Lokosa in a duel with Remo Stars midfielder Joseph Stanley in one of this season’s domestic league derbies. Photo Credit: Culled from @RemoStarsSC on X.

Apart from this fundamental defect in the contract term of the NPFL contract, there are other terms in the contract which place a lot of burden on the player without a commensurate responsibility being placed on the club. Furthermore, there is the absence of clear provisions on the payment of salaries to a player while injured or ill in the Nigerian contract.

This absence gives room for the club to deny players’ salaries or wages during the period of illness. This has led to players’ ’s reluctance to inform the club of their illness or injuries on time but would rather prefer other self-help means for quick recovery.

Captain Fantastic of Shooting Stars Sports Club, Taofeek Malomo is arguably one of the highly-rated creative playmaker in the NPFL so far this season. Photo Credit: Culled from @ShootingSC on X.

The failure of the clubs to avail the player with a copy of the contract agreement is a clear violation of the FIFA minimum standard requirement. In the NPFL contract only the provision of basic salary is mentioned. The payment of other financial obligations by the club such as bonuses, allowances, insurance benefit, medical and pension benefits was not provided included in the contract.

The effect of this could be manipulation and embezzlement of the funds meant for football players by the club management; and even nonpayment of these minimal fees by Nigerian clubs. The FIFA Regulation on the Status and Transfer of Players is another very important document to be considered on the issue of player contracts between professional football players and clubs.

Akwa United defeated Remo Stars on Matchday 10 in a five-goal thriller at the Eket Township Stadium, Uyo. Photo Credit: Culled from @RemoStarsSC on X.

Under this regulation, the eligibility of a player to enter into a valid contract with a club is determined by his proper registration with a member association and in Nigeria, this will be the NFF. A player may only be registered with one club at a time, can only register with a maximum of three clubs in one season and over this period, the player may play official matches for two clubs only.

On the issue of termination of contract, a contract between a club and a player during the season cannot be terminated unilaterally by any of the parties. The only ground for the termination of a contract by a professional football player is for sporting just cause.

In July 2022, BSNSports reported that there was a controversy between Rivers United and NK Maribor in the transfer of Ishaq Rafiu Kayode to the Slovenian side as the 2021/22 Nigeria Premier Football League champions insisted that the player’s contract was still valid at that time.

Ex-NPFL sensation Ishaq Rafiu Kayode in action for Rivers United in a domestic encounter away to Remo Stars in Ikenne. Photo Credit: Culled from BSNSports.

Rivers United debunked the move earlier announced by NK Maribor in the securement of the services of the Nigerian left-footed forward on a 3-year deal. The Media Officer of the Club, Mayuku Charles in an exclusive chat on High Sports with Isaiah Akinremi on -I-Flier 103.3FM Ibadan maintained that the club have not been in negotiations with any club for Ishaq.

“The press release was put out by Rivers United and we did explain to everyone, the true position of the club on the issue. Ishaq Rafiu Kayode is still a bonafide player of Rivers United and is still under contract and as far as that is concerned all the rumours you are hearing are not true. Rivers United have not been involved in any negotiations with any club side and irrespective of the year or month remaining, Ishaq is still under a valid contract,” he affirmed.

The unveiling of the Nigerian starman at the training facility of NK Maribor. Photo Credit: Culled from Brila FM.

Where a contract is terminated by a player without just cause, he may be sanctioned and made to pay compensation. In the case where a club is found to have induced a player to terminate his contract, the club would be banned from registering new players for two consecutive registration periods, whether nationally or internationally.

There are some special provisions under the regulation, on the status and transfer of the player which may render a contract between a player and a club invalid if it is not given due consideration by the contracting parties.

In one of the oldest NPFL Southwest derbies between Kwara United v Shooting Stars Sports Club saw the Afonja Warriors share the spoils with a visiting Gbenga Ogunbote’s Oluyole Warriors in Ilorin. Photo Credit: Culled from @ShootingSC on X.

If a contract between a professional football player and a club is brokered by an intermediary, the intermediary must be mentioned in the contract. An agreement between a club and a player must not exceed five years and cannot be less than one season. A player is free to enter into a new contract with another club at the expiration of his contract with his previous club or six months before his contract is due to expire, although the former club must be informed in writing by the new club of its intention to take on the professional football player as a member of its club before the parties can enter into negotiations.

The management of Phoenix Athletics Sports Club has recalled young sensation Tolulope Ojo from NPFL 2018 champions-elect Lobi Stars over breach of contract; the player who was a product of the Ekiti-based club was transferred to Lobi Stars on an agreement of N2 million to be paid in two instalments, as reported by The Citizen.

Tolulope Ojo in actions with the Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets at the 2019 CAF U-17 Africa Cup of Nations in Tanzania. Photo Credit: Culled from Pulse Sports.

According to the letter of intent to withdraw the player made available to the press, Lobi Stars reneged from the contract agreement after an initial letter of complaint against the Shoe Get Size of Makurdi for allegedly poaching was withdrawn from the defunct League Management Company.

The official letter of intent of withdrawal of Tolulope Ojo from the disposal of Lobi Stars. Photo Credit: Culled from The Citizen.

The letter which was signed by Bayo Olanlege, General Manager of Phoenix ASC stated that: “Recall that on the 10th of April 2018, you were served with a default notice reminding you of your failure to pay the outstanding transfer fees as agreed in the circumstance. This letter is our formal declaration of our right to recall the player in line with the terms of our contract.”

Olanlege further expressed his disappointment with the management of Lobi Stars over what he describes as an ‘attempt to bully’ his team by an NPFL side. He also said: ”It is unfortunate that teams like Lobi stars often intimidate and bully smaller teams by poaching and hoodwinking them to release their young talents without regard for contractual agreements,” the ebullient football administrator lamented.

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