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Professional footballers in Eastern Europe are set for improved employment protection thanks to a new European Union directive which will enable them to claim the employment rights of a normal worker, instead of a self-employed contractor, FIFPro lawyer Wil van Megen explains.


Do professional footballers not have the same rights as most workers?
Not all footballers. In a number of Eastern European countries such as Croatia, the Czech Republic and Romania the relationship between a professional footballer and his club is defined as self-employed. This is because clubs prefer to avoid social security taxes and other forms of legal protection that normal employment contracts provide.

How many footballers have self-employed contracts?
It’s difficult to say exactly but there are hundreds; 94% of professional footballers in Croatia and the Czech Republic have self-employed contracts, according to the 2016 FIFPro Global Employment Report (see graphic below). In Romania 60% pf players also have such agreements with clubs, the research found. In Slovenia (73%) the number was also high although the national player association (SPINS), together with other football stakeholders, has agreed to phase out many self-employed contracts.

What are the main drawbacks of these contracts?
Players do not benefit from social security schemes. In Croatia, for example, these players can also run into financial problems when they do not receive their salaries but have to continue paying all their taxes, healthcare and pension contributions. This situation has caused dozens of unpaid players to have their bank accounts frozen over non-payment of taxes. Another drawback: it is difficult for so-called self-employed players to negotiate a collective employment agreement with teammates.

Wil van Megen 1 400Do football authorities approve of self-employed contracts?
No. In 2012, football’s European stakeholders (UEFA, FIFPro, EPFL and ECA) defined the relationship between a professional footballer and his club as an employment agreement: a player is an employee of the club and the contract must be an employment contract. However, a number of leagues and federations did not comply with the agreement and invoked national laws and regulations to justify that professional players were considered as self-employed. One of the reasons for their justification was that there was no clear overarching European provision that regulated employment relations. This has changed now.

What exactly has changed?
Until now there was no EU definition for employed worker although there is EU case law that indicates who is an employed worker and who is not (*1). The new EU-directive 2017/0355 includes a definition in art. 2: ‘worker’ means a natural person who for a certain period of time performs services for and under the direction of another person in return for remuneration. From now on clubs and leagues within the EU will no longer be able to hide behind national law or the principle of subsidiarity (*2) in order to escape employment contracts. From now on players in countries like Croatia, the Czech Republic and Romania and their unions can invoke the definition that cannot be set aside by national governments. It will create a European level playing field not only for players but also for clubs that already respect the law.

Do self-employed players benefit immediately?
Not automatically. This new directive provides players and player associations with an important tool to legally claim their status as a worker. They could discuss this new directive with clubs, leagues or federations, or if necessary go to court.


Employment status civil contract 640 C 
From 2016 FIFPro Global employment Report 


  1. 9 CJEU 3 July 1986, C-66/85 (Lawrie/Blum) and CJEU17 November 2016 C-216/15 Ruhrlandklinik
  2. Subsidiarity in this context means that the overarching international standard only applies if there is no national standard in place.