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Russia: Supreme Court Ruling on Sports Contracts

(Dec. 9, 2015) On November 24, 2015, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation issued a ruling on resolving labor disputes involving athletes and sports team coaches. (Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, Ruling No. 52 on the Application by Courts of Laws Regulating the Work of Sportsmen and Coaches (Nov. 24, 2015), Supreme Court of the Russian Federation website (in Russian).) The ruling establishes standards for labor contracts concluded between teams, coaches, and players (id. § 5) and states that these contracts may include requirements established by athletic associations in addition to regular labor law provisions (id. § 2).

According to the ruling, athletes and coaches can be hired for a period of no longer than five years (id. § 7), and their employers are required to provide them with guarantees of participation in sporting events and competitions (id. § 8). If an employer cannot provide an athlete with opportunities to participate in sports competitions, he must find an opportunity to transfer that athlete to another team for a period of up to one year, so that the athlete will be able to compete. (Id. § 16.)

Athletes who become sick or injured will continue to receive the same benefits as if they were performing normally. (Id. § 21.) Team owners are allowed to invite foreign athletes and coaches to join their teams, but the owners must personally accept the associated risks, because they will not be able to terminate contracts with the foreigners early if the recruits do not demonstrate the expected results. Thus, contracts with foreign athletes are subject to the same rules as those signed with Russian sportsmen and cannot be changed because of the underperformance of the invited athlete. (Id. § 12.)

Athletes are required to take measures aimed at improving their performance. Engaging in behavior that does not lead to improved results, such as missing practices, smoking, or drinking, even during vacation time, refusal to undergo medical evaluations, or gaining weight, can be a reason for early termination of a contract. (Id. § 14.) Doping is now a mandated reason for excluding an athlete from a team, and it is a job requirement for a coach to make sure that members of a team he or she coaches do not take prohibited stimulants. Doping abuse by athletes can be a reason for firing a coach, and an athlete’s avoiding a doping test will be considered an attempt to falsify test results. (Id. § 24.)

Additionally, the Supreme Court addressed training methods used by coaches. It said that any single incidence of physical or mental abuse will constitute a sufficient reason to initiate adverse actions against a coach. (Id. § 26.)

The ruling is to be used as guidance by all lower courts when they resolve cases related to professional sports. Existing labor contracts with athletes and coaches must be amended to reflect the issues addressed by the Supreme Court ruling. (Id. § 1.)

Commentators have stated that the ruling is an important step in bringing transparency to professional sports in Russia and is intended to make sure that all athletes follow their contractual obligations. (Vladislav Kulikov, Do Not Toast the Records, ROSSIISKAIA GAZETA (Nov. 24, 2015) (in Russian).)