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Cardiff City Lose Appeal in the Payment Dispute of Player who Passed Away Before the Transfer

A look back

In January 2019 English side Cardiff City FC (“Cardiff”), a premier league team at the time, struck an agreement with French Ligue 1 side FC Nantes (“Nantes”) for the transfer of striker Emiliano Sala for 15 million pounds. After the public announcements from each club, the Argentine player boarded a small private aircraft to go from western France to Wales. January 21st, 2019 was the last time anyone would see the striker, as the plane tragically crashed in the English Channel that day, killing both Sala and the pilot.

The Dispute

As a result of the tragic death of Emiliano Sala, an unprecedented inquiry developed into whether Cardiff still owed the transfer fee to Nantes. The FIFA procedural rules, FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, FIFA Rules Governing the Procedures of the Players’ Status Committee, and the Dispute Resolution Chamber (2018 edition), all have no mention of this scenario. However, FIFA stepped in and decided on September 25, 2019, that Cardiff must pay Nantes the first installment of the 6,000,000 euro transfer fee plus 5% interest per annum. Cardiff immediately appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The decision can be found here.

On appeal in front of the three-person panel in Switzerland, Cardiff contended that from a contractual perspective with a glimpse into the common intention of the parties, the transfer agreement could not be valid as two conditions precedent to the contract were not fulfilled. First, Cardiff claimed the player was being transferred and Nantes failed to validly terminate their employment relationship pursuant to the French Labour Code. Secondly, Cardiff claimed the player could at no time have been deemed a Cardiff player due to the absence of player registration with the premier league, the common intention of the parties.

After a long hearing back in March of 2022 and months of examining evidence and law, the panel for the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled on August 22 that the player transfer was completed because all conditions precedent in the transfer agreement were satisfied before the tragic death. Therefore, Cardiff’s payment obligations were rightfully triggered pursuant to the transfer agreement, and the Welsh side must pay the first installment of the transfer fee plus 5% interest per annum from the date January 27, 2019, until the date of effective payment.

The Reaction

Although the Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled on this matter, it does not seem like this will be the end of the dispute among the clubs. In response to the decision, Cardiff publicly stated,

“Cardiff City is disappointed by the decision of the Court of Arbitration in Sport. Once the club’s lawyers have digested the reasons for the decision we expect to appeal and will not be making any payments to FC Nantes in the meanwhile. If those appeals are unsuccessful and the club is liable to pay the transfer fee, the club will take legal action against those responsible for the crash and recover its losses. This will include FC Nantes and its agents.”

Nantes released its statement stating,

“FC Nantes welcomes the decision rendered today on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The court has completely rejected the appeal lodged by Cardiff City and has confirmed the decision rendered by FIFA on September 25, 2019, concerning the transfer of Emiliano Sala. The Court, therefore, ruled as Nantes had argued since the start of the proceedings, that the player’s transfer to Cardiff City was over when he died tragically in an aviation accident. FC Nantes is delighted that this procedure,- initiated by Cardiff City and then delayed on numerous occasions by Cardiff City, - which has been difficult for all those close to Emiliano, is finally over. The club hopes this will mark the end of the public misinformation campaign, which FC Nantes has never reacted to, out of respect for the player’s family.

Along with their initial ruling for Cardiff to pay the first installment of the transfer, FIFA has imposed a three-window transfer ban for the now Championship club (i.e., the second division of England). Although the ban has not taken effect due to the ongoing appeals, it seems that pressure is slowly caving on Cardiff to pay the French side or face the consequences of the FIFA punishment.

Zac Montanez is a recent law graduate of New York Law School. He can be found on LinkedIn here.

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