When it comes to sporting contracts, MBA Lawyers’ Matt Windle is an expert. A former professional footballer, during his playing days he negotiated his own.
As a rugby union elite, Matthew represented the Queensland Reds, captained the Gold Coast Breakers to the 2004 Queensland Premiership, was a foundation player at the Western Force, represented Australia at various levels and played professionally in Japan.
As a Partner in Gold Coast firm MBA Lawyers, Matthew is a Queensland Law Society accredited specialist in Business Law, with a particular passion for sports law.
Accordingly, he been an interested observer of the recent turmoil over sporting contracts, especially in the NRL where a spate of appointments, swaps, career resurrections and contractual manipulations has seen coaching jobs like a game of ‘pass the parcel’.
“This is the time of year when many playing and coaching futures are decided. The questions you hear are all about who’s going where and fo
r how much, who’s staying put and, for some, who’s out in the wilderness?” said Matthew.
“But every sporting contract is different. For instance, coaching contracts in the NRL are not regulated by any governing body, so each is negotiated by the contracting parties and perhaps falls into a precedent-type agreement drafted by the club with bespoke terms.
“On the other hand, player contracts are regulated by a collective bargaining agreement which was negotiated by the NRL and the Rugby League Players Association.
“Generally speaking, it’s not healthy for the club environment to leave these matters unresolved or unclear. If clubs don’t want a player or coach at their club, or vice versa, then relationships can break down and a mediation or negotiation of releases is normally in order.”
For example, such is the case at the Manly Sea-Eagles with a stand-off between 2018 coach Trent Barrett and the club after last week’s bombshell announcing premiership-winning coach Des Hasler would return to take charge in 2019.
“In these types of cases, if there are no clauses within the employment contract to entitle the club to terminate based on, for example, results or breaches of any other terms, then the club is not able to terminate the contract unilaterally,” said Matthew.
“If a coach was sacked without that legal ability to do so, then he or she would more than likely have rights for unfair dismissal, as we saw with former Cricket Australia head coach Mickey Arthur.”
So, with fans again wondering whether sporting contracts are worth the paper they’re written on, the legal action off the footy field proves just as bruising as the action on it.