Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter
FOOTBALL stakeholders have challenged Zifa to urgently address the issue of players’ contracts as fears rise that clubs could lose players for nothing due to inactivity.

Footballers Union of Zimbabwe (Fuz) and local agents have been at the forefront of urging clubs to take a proactive approach and engage players whose contracts have expired instead of waiting for guidance from Zifa.

Local clubs and players are in a dilemma as they don’t know what to do following the expiry of some players’ contracts at the end of June.

The Highlanders’ pair of midfielders Brian Banda and striker Tinashe Makanda are among players whose contracts expired on June 30.

Zifa is yet to communicate the way forward.

In April, Fifa issued guidelines to address legal consequences of Covid-19 but Zifa hasn’t interpreted them for the domestic league.

In relation to expiry and commencement of player contracts, Fifa noted that expiring player contracts usually end when the season ends, with a termination date that coincides with the end of the season.

“With the current suspension of play in most countries, it is now obvious that the current season will not end when people thought it would. Therefore, it is proposed that contracts be extended until such a time that the season does actually end. This should be in line with the original intention of the parties when the contract was signed and should also preserve sporting integrity and stability.

“A similar principle applies to contracts due to begin when the new season starts, meaning the entry into force of such contracts is delayed until the next season actually does start,” Fifa advised.

Taken literally, this means players like Banda and Makanda, whose contracts have technically expired, still belong to their old clubs unless both parties agree to part ways.

The sticking point is that since it wasn’t the doing of clubs that the season, which was supposed to start in March, had to be postponed indefinitely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it will be unfair on clubs that have kept their end of the contractual obligations by paying players while inactive, to lose them.

Fifa has acknowledged that clubs are finding it difficult to meet their employment agreements as most of them have been hit hard by suspension of play as a result of the pandemic.

It is against this background that Fifa encouraged associations to find fair and equitable solutions tailored to their circumstances, with a view to protecting jobs and achieving a fair and reasonable balance of interest between players and clubs.

Fifa also urged clubs and players to work together to reach agreements and find solutions during this period when football is suspended.

“While it is primarily up to the relevant parties at national level to find solutions to fit the circumstances in their own country, Fifa recommends looking at all aspects of each situation in an even handed manner, including what Government measures are there to support clubs and players, whether pay should be deferred or reduced and what insurance coverage may exist.

“If parties cannot agree and, as a consequence, cases come to Fifa, the factors to be examined will include the following: -whether there was a genuine attempt by the club to reach agreement with the -:
lplayers;

– what the economic situation of the club is;

– the proportionality of any adjustment to player contracts;

– the net income position of players after any contract adjustment; and

– whether players have been treated equally or not.

“In this way, Fifa hopes that it will be able to find solutions that are fair and balanced for both sides,” Fifa said.

Although it’s obvious that Zifa slept on duty, clubs that failed to engage their players on time are also equally guilty.

Zifa has been directing its energy to squabbles, fighting to shut out its vice-president Gift Banda. Fifa Futuro instructor, who is also the Premier Soccer League chief executive officer, Kennedy Ndebele said Zifa should give guidance.

“The association must come up with rules. As it stands, the contracts have not expired. As said, the association must advise to avoid players being dumped by clubs,” said Ndebele.

Another experienced football administrator Brian Moyo said in as much as Zifa should give guidelines, clubs must take the initiative to engage their players.

“It’s a very difficult situation that clubs find themselves in. First it’s players whose contracts are up, those whose contracts are winding up and those that entered new contracts in January 2020. All this is happening in an environment where clubs are expected to honour their part in terms of contractual obligations, but for what in return?

“I personally think no one saw this coming, but honestly, when European clubs were calculating potential loss, coming out with mitigating options like salary cuts, we waited for Fifa to give a blueprint. We should have crafted a Zimbabwean solution, that is, encourage engagement between a player and club. More so that Zimbabwe doesn’t follow the Fifa calendar, and as such a Fifa solution isn’t going to be an easy fit for us,” said Moyo.

“The Fifa blueprint helps best those whose leagues were interrupted while running. Players were encouraged to hang on till the season finally finishes. But for the Zimbabwe Premiership, action hadn’t started, so clubs were exposed and no one saw this coming. But we waited too long to do anything, if we are doing anything really,” he said Moyo.

Former Zifa Bulawayo Province Junior League chairman Mkhululi Mthunzi said: “It’s a tricky situation for everyone. The economy has left everyone exposed and vulnerable. Everyone is feeling the heat, clubs, sponsors and players. It becomes very difficult to tie down players when you have limited or no resources at all.

“All things being equal, players are tied down six months before the contract expires if the club still needs his services, meaning for a contract expiring in June negotiations could have been concluded in January.

“I also think if Zifa had its way it could have protected both parties by saying all contracts are moved forward and commence when the season starts and those that were expiring mid-season only expire after playing half the season. The same with those that have committed themselves to play one season, they should be allowed to play up to the end of the season even if the season overlaps into next year. Remember, no one is at fault here and there is need for both parties to understand and reciprocate. A bit of patience and tolerance from both parties will see both parties through.”

Player intermediary Daly Bhebhe said the Zimbabwean situation is complex in that the league hadn’t kicked off and requires both players and clubs to negotiate.

“It depends on whether the club is still paying the player after the lapse of his contract because this shows commitment to renew the contract. If the club stops paying salaries, then it shows the club does not want to renew it.

“The other problem is that there’s no communication from Zifa, PSL or SRC about the way forward, leaving everything to speculation. But if players aren’t being paid, the best way is to start looking for another club,” said Bhebhe.

Another player agent Sanangurayi Mushove said players and clubs should not wait for contracts to end before agreeing on an extension.

“You can negotiate prior to the expiry of a contract, but if they (club) are not willing to extend, you can negotiate with other teams as long as they are interested in the services of a player. What is key is for all parties to be truthful to one another, because from a player’s perspective if the club is silent about extension it means they no longer require your services. While we appreciate that Fifa sets guidelines, that doesn’t stop clubs from negotiating with players because even in Europe, they are negotiating with players,” said Mushove.

He applauded clubs for remunerating players at a time when there are no footballing activities.

Fuz secretary-general Thomas Sweswe said: “Players can negotiate with other clubs since their contracts have lapsed. There is formal communication from Fifa on contracts that are ending and clubs need to sit down and agree with players on the way forward.” – @ZililoR