Cases

The Statement of Material Facts

Lehlohonolo Majoro

Lehlohonolo Majoro is a South African football striker who has represented the South African National Team and was contracted and played for the Premier Soccer League club known as Kaizer Chiefs Football Club (“Chiefs”). He is regarded as one of the most consistent strikers in South Africa, scoring over 10 goals per season in last three league seasons. Chiefs concluded a fixed-term contract of employment with the player which was in force from 1 July 2011 until 30 June 2014. Round about November 2013, cracks started to be visible in the negotiations between Majoro and Chiefs in respect of a possible extension of his contract beyond 30 June 2014. The player did not agree to an extension of his fixed-term employment contract with the club as from 1 July 2014.

The breakdown in negotiations resulted in Chiefs negotiating with another Premier Soccer League club in South Africa for the transfer of Majoro. Majoro did not want to be transferred to this club and made his intentions very clear to Chiefs. This unfortunately placed Majoro in a quandary as Chiefs started to make his life a living hell by instructing the coach not to field him. Upon enquiring with the coach, the mater blew out into the open and stories started to apper in the media about the strained relationship between the player and the coach, hence he was no longer being fielded. The player became a victim for standing up for his rights.

During January 2014 Chiefs instructed Majoro that he might no longer train with the “A” team of Chiefs. In addition to the club’s unreasonable and unlawful refusal that the player may not train with the “A” team Chief squad, the player was instructed to train on his own under the supervision of a club representative at a different training ground (at the Nike Centre in Soweto). The supervisor’s responsibility was none other than to ensure that the player signs a register and is provided with training apparel excluding a football. It is important to emphasize that Majoro was compelled to train alone in isolation and without a football. Despite the club’s unlawful conduct to isolate him in training, the player continued to tender his services and report for duty.

On or about 21 January 2014, Chiefs handed Majoro a letter in which the club suspended the player with immediate effect, without following proper processes such as establishing the Disciplinary Committee where it doesn’t exist or where it exist for the player to be subjected to such a process as outlined in the contract between the player and the club. What was worse is that such a suspension was without pay. This resulted in the player not receiving his January 2014 monthly salary and benefits. The suspension of the player without pay constituted a material breach of his contract of employment. At this stage, it was clear that the club was no longer interested in the services of the player, infringing the rights of the player and frustrating the player to the extreme in order to make his football career intolerable. The club deliberately infringed the player’s fundamental rights and unlawfully breached the player’s contract of employment.

By keeping the player away from the “A” team squad, to let him train alone, to suspend him without pay, the club not only amended his contract unilaterally but also breached the player’s contract. Players’ contracts establish certain rights and obligations for both the player and the club. It is an obligation of the club to pay the player for his services and provide him with the ability to ply his trade i.e. to play football. In Majoro’s case it is a fact that Chiefs did not respect the player’s right to earn a salary. A club’s obligations even extend beyond the above – that it is implied that a club is responsible to allow a player to play in matches (if selected) and to train in order to improve and to develop the player’s skills. Football is a team sport and it is a fact and the implied term of all professional footballers’ contract of employment is that the training will be part of a team or squad and with a football. This is a sacrosanct aspects of any player-club relationship.

All players have a right to fair and equal treatment as enshrined and protected in the FIFA statutes and regulations, those of the South African Football Association (“SAFA”) and of the National Soccer League (“NSL”). These principles also find recognition in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996 (“the Constitution”) and more particularly the Bill of Rights. This dispute related specifically to the right to equality, the right to trade occupation and profession.

SAFPU sent out a strong message that every football player does have the right of human dignity, equality and freedom. Chiefs’ actions resulted in that the player was in the football wilderness. Any professional footballer who is being unfairly and unlawfully refused by a club to play and/or train in a team set up, does not receive the required exposure which results in such a player loosing market value is grossly unfair on that player and Majoro was no exception. This is greatly prejudicing the player’s playing career and which becomes a greater concern worldwide.

Not only did Majoro lose market value due to the limited exposure, his club’s unlawful conduct further resulted in the player losing significant financial benefits in remuneration, match fees including at the level of the national team bonuses and possible endorsement(s). Not only did Chiefs infringe on the players fundamental rights of a professional footballer, the club also made unilateral changes to the original terms and conditions of the player’s employment contract without the consent of the player. The club’s unlawful conduct constituted a significant variation in the terms and conditions of employment of the player, which did constitute an unfair and or an unlawful dismissal.

On the 5th February 2014 SAFPU demanded that the player be paid his monthly salary for the month of January 2014, that the player be paid his monthly accommodation for the month of January 2014, that the player be allowed to train with the “A” team squad, and that the player be allowed to form part of the squad in order to have the opportunity to be selected for the team to play matches. SAFPU afforded Chiefs the opportunity to remedy its breaches until Monday, 10 February 2014 at 10:00 and expressly communicated to Chiefs that if the club does not remedy its breach on or before Monday, 10 February 2014 at 10:00, it will be deemed that the club is unable to remedy its breach of the player’s contract, in which circumstances the player will accept the club’s repudiation of the contract and regard the contract as to be cancelled unilaterally by the club. The club failed to remedy this breach by the deadline that SAFPU had provided to them. The union approached the Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC) of the PSL simply because it is only the DRC that has the power to declare a player a free agent.

Chiefs’ only response was that they would not communicate to the union. Based on this response from Chiefs, SAFPU and the Majoro approached the DRC applying for a declaration for the player as a free agent. SAFPU was successful in its application for free agency on Saturday, 22 February 2014, thus sending a clear message out to all South African clubs to respect the rights of the players and honour their contracts. Majoro is now entitled to sign for any club of his choice, even outside the window transfer period. This he duly did by singing for Orlando Pirates so that again, he can use his talents to earn an income including having the prospects of being selected into the national team and getting endorsements for plying is trade.

A football club almost ended a great career of a talented professional footballer. It would seem that the team has now found a journalist who intends to rubbish the efforts of the union by unilaterally demonstrating his allegiance to the club by reporting only the club’s side of the story. The true facts of the matter were not reported and the incorrect reporting may cause damage to the football industry in general. We will engage with the Press Ombudsman on the matter as this journalist by the name of Mark Gleeson doesn’t want to accord the player through his representative (SAFPU) an opportunity to respond to all this damning allegations and or to report on the correct facts of the matter. The public is entitled to hear the true story and the correct facts and reporting of this nature is wrong, in which instance it misleads the public.

This matter is a great and necessary win for SAFPU and for Majoro. It will go a long way in leveling the playing fields for the exploited players in South Africa. As SAFPU, our belief is that players’ rights should be respected not only in South Africa, but also in the world. This is the moment of the player as the club bosses in South Africa have become too much bigger than the game. We need to work together with club bosses by ensuring we have players who are happy and clubs that are happy in order to build a strong globally competitive league. Whilst as SAFPU we respect that teams have rights and obligations, we expect teams in return to respect the fact that the union and the players have rights and obligations as well.

Thulaganyo Gaoshubelwe, General Secretary, SAFPU.