Court decision in Dahmane case troubles Belgian soccer clubs

Sport law - Soccer - Labor contract
In 2007, the Algerian soccer player Mohamed Dahmane was transferred from Belgian soccer club RAEC Mons to KRC Genk for the amount of 700.000 EUR.

At his new club, the midfielder signed a 4-year contract, but was quickly sent to the second team, due to a personal conflict with the club board and Hugo Broos, the manager of the first team.

Shortly after his removal from the first team, Dahmane decided to unilaterally end his labor contract with the club (on 23 January 2008).

KRC Genk filed a writ of summons to the Labor Court of Hasselt, which ruled in favor of the club and condemned the player to the payment of an indemnity of 800.000 EUR (being 36 times his monthly salary).

The court based its ruling upon the legal provisions of the Belgian Act on Professional Athletes of 24 February 1978 which states that any professional athlete, whom wishes to ends his/her contract with his/her employer before its termination date, is obliged to remunerate the latter, hereby taking the remaining contractual period into account. Since the player ended his contract shortly after its execution, the Court found itself compelled to condemn Dahmane to the maximum penalty.

However, the player filed an appeal before the Court of Appeal of Antwerp. During these proceedings, Dahmane pointed out that there exists a rather important discrepancy between the legal provisions which are applicable on “common” employees on the one hand and the legal provisions of the abovementioned Act on Professional Athletes on the other hand, especially when it comes to the indemnities due in case of an early termination of a labor contract.

If Dahmane would have been a “common” employee (and consequently would have been judged based upon the regulations of the Belgian Act on Labor Contracts) he would have been condemned to an indemnity of (maximum) 9 to 10 times his monthly salary (or 26 to 27 months less than ruled by the Court of Hasselt).

On 6 May 2014 the Court of Appeal decided to review the judgment of the Court of Hasselt and reduced the indemnity to an amount of 220.000 EUR. The Court hereby referred to the prohibition of discrimination between citizens, as embedded in the Belgian constitution.

Although the judgment of the Court of Appeal cannot be considered as a new “Bosman ruling”, it is clear that it has created the possibility for any court to inspire itself on this ruling of 6 May 2014, if these courts are faced with a similar case.

Professional sport clubs in Belgium now fear that this ruling will facilitate its athletes to end his/her contract prematurely, every time when such employee is no longer happy with his/her current (financial of sportive) situation at the club in question.
Only time will tell whether this fear is legitimate or not.

For more information about this case and/or assistance in legal proceedings, please contact Bob Laes.