Young Scots footballers ‘held hostage by contracts’

ASPIRING young footballers are being held hostage by clubs with “contracts” which may not be worth the paper they are written on, according to Children’s Commissioner Tam Baillie.
Kids as young as ten are being tied to 'contracts' they feel they cannot get out of.Kids as young as ten are being tied to 'contracts' they feel they cannot get out of.
Kids as young as ten are being tied to 'contracts' they feel they cannot get out of.

Clubs tie 10-year-olds to agreements which forbid them from playing for other clubs, and can even restrict them from playing for their school team despite guidance to deter the practice by the Scottish Football Association (SFA), Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee heard.

Mr Baillie presented a raft of recommendations to prevent children’s rights being breached, including the freedom for children to give 28 days’ notice to resign from a club.

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Children’s careers can be restricted by clubs who request payments from rivals for children who have come through their academies but fail to reach an agreement.

Mr Baillie said: “If the young person chooses to get out of that ‘contract’ they are sometimes left as a hostage to the original club, because there is a dispute over the payment and this can last for quite a period of time.

“In theory, you could have them held year on year because the payments have not been made.”

He added: “There is an issue about 10-year-olds signing what they think are contracts, and potentially being held to those right through their formative years.

“There is an issue about 15-year-olds being held to contracts, sometimes against their wishes, for a further two years until they are 17.

“And I think there are issues in respect of the perception that they are not allowed to play for clubs or their behaviour is restricted by the ‘contracts’, which I would put in inverted commas because there is quite a bit of debate about whether they are contracts or not.

“As far as the children are concerned, they have signed a contract and it impacts on their behaviour because they don’t get to play for schools on some occasions, not all, and there are certainly restrictive practices there.”

He continued: “It doesn’t matter whether these contracts are worth the paper they are written on or not.

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“The perception of the children and young people involved is that they are contracts.”

Mr Baillie said “the odds are stacked against children and young people” when the system to protect their rights breaks down.

“This business of not being allowed to play for their school, certainly the SFA has tried to rectify that to make clear that that is not a condition that can be built in, but it is still at the discretion of the clubs and one of the recommendations is to remove that,” he said.

“The recommendations are that a young person should have the same period of notice as they would in youth football.

“In other words, if they want to move clubs they can give 28 days’ notice and that would be the end of it and they can go elsewhere.”

He added: “Unless they implement these recommendations I think we run the risk of being in breach of children’s rights, and at some point there may be a challenge in that because of the way we have allowed our children to be treated in their pursuit of an aspiration of becoming a football player.”