Whilst the A-League, NBL and WNBL are in the early stages of their new seasons, the AFL and NRL have wound down for the next 5 months. This means that the players, who have slogged away during the winter months in the chase for a premiership, are enjoying holidays and resting their bodies before the commencement of another arduous pre-season.
Whilst the players may not be in the public eye during this period quite as much as during the season, their contracts with their clubs remain in force. Therefore, players must ensure they continue to abide by the strict requirements and obligations that are in place under their respective contracts.
Like employment contracts, playing contracts in sport determine the scope and terms of the relationship between a player and a club, competitions or national sporting body. At a professional level, playing contracts are generally between the player and their club. However, there are some athletes, like national representatives in sports such as cricket and athletics, that are contracted by the peak sporting body.
Many sporting competitions in Australia urge participating clubs to engage players using a ‘standard playing contract’. A standard playing contract is a template usually drafted by the sport's controlling body and promoted to clubs as a means of formalising player-club agreements. For example, the WorkSafe Victorian Country Football League requests that participating clubs engage players using the league’s standard playing contract.
The benefits of using a standard playing contract is that it creates uniformity amongst the competition's players in relation to their obligations to their club and competition. It also provides processes for dispute resolution and termination. Standard playing contracts are still flexible enough to allow a player to negotiate his or her salary and other incentives, such as medical cover, holidays and sponsorship deals.
A player must understand their obligations and responsibilities under a playing contract. Regardless of whether a player enters into a standard playing contract or a specialised contract, a player should make enquiries before signing a contract in relation to their mode of payment and superannuation entitlements.
Players should also ensure they understand their behaviour and representation obligations both in-season and during their off-season. For example, Clyde Rathbone, a former ACT Brumbies rugby player, put tweets on his Twitter account in 2013 stating his displeasure at having to take part in “athletes promoting junk food” following a promotional event players were required to participate in at a fast food restaurant. The Brumbies, with whom Rathbone had a playing contract, asked him to delete the tweets as he was in breach of conduct rules, and not deleting the tweets could potentially lead to program funding cuts. Other examples of players being in breach of contract for their behaviour include drug violations and criminal convictions.
If a player does not have prior experience in negotiating the details of a playing contract, the player should seek legal advice. As well as negotiating a playing contract, a lawyer will be able to assist by explaining the terms and repercussions of the playing contract provisions. A lawyer will also be able to explain the eligible tax deductions and obligations in regard to payments received from a sporting club.
For advice or further information regarding player contracts or other areas of Sports Law, please contact: