Particularities of Employment Contracts of Professional Athletes in Spain

8 January 2024 - Sven Wassmer

Spain, unlike other countries, such as Germany for example, does not only have a general law on sports (Law 39/2022 of 30 December, which regulates sports in general), but also a specific law on the employment of athletes (Royal Decree 1006/1985 of 26 June 1985, which regulates the special employment relationship of professional athletes).

Sven Wassmer, PhD Abogado & Rechtsanwalt +34 91 319 96 86

As the contract of an athlete with his or her club or sports company (the employer) is considered an employment relationship, in general, it is subject to the regulations of the Spanish Workers’ Statute. However, RD 1006/1985 establishes certain important particularities for such contracts, and, in accordance with the lex specialis rule, these specifications override the general rules of the Spanish Workers’ Statute.

One of the most important examples is article 6 of RD 1006/1985. It establishes that the special employment relationship of professional athletes must always be for a fixed term, either for a fixed period of time or for a fixed number of sporting events. Although this might seem logical, considering the typically short career of professional athletes, it is an exception to the Workers’ Statute, which establishes that, as a general rule, employment contracts must be indefinite. In Germany, for example there is no such specific regulation and the validity of fixed-term employment contracts of athletes had to be established by case law.

Another particularity of such contracts is that clubs or other employers may temporarily loan an athlete to another club with the athlete’s consent. During the loan, under Spanish law, both the owner club and the loan club are jointly and severally liable for labour and social security obligations.

Furthermore, RD 1006/1985 establishes special rules regarding the financial conditions, e.g. in articles 11 and 13. They give an athlete the right to receive 15% of the amount paid by his or her club in case of a temporary loan or permanent transfer, albeit such right is usually excluded in the respective contracts between the former club, the new club and the player. Moreover, the famous buyout clauses, which oblige a player to pay a buyout fee in case of his or her unilateral termination of the contract, are also expressly stipulated in the provisions of RD 1006/1985. Although such amount is actually paid by the “buying” club, legally it is a compensation paid by the player for the termination of the contract.

In case RD 1006/1985 does not foresee a specific regulation for a certain matter, the more general provisions of the Spanish Workers’ Statute apply. This holds true, even in contracts with elite athletes with very high salaries, for example, concerning the right to perceive a severance pay for the termination of a fixed-term contract, as was confirmed by the Spanish Supreme Court.