Sports in Spain: Obligation to Participate in National Team Competitions

29 September 2023 - Sven Wassmer

For any athlete, a call-up to the national team is usually considered an honour and an amazing opportunity. By representing their country in competitions, they can present themselves as athletes to the whole world, increasing their market value.

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

However, there might be situations in which athletes do not want to participate in a competition with their team. Such unwillingness might be rooted in sports-related reasons such as overload or focus on other competitions, as is often the case in tennis for example. It might also be due to personal reasons, political reason or even due to a conflict with the national federation, as was recently the case with players of the Spanish women’s football team shortly after winning the World Cup.

In such cases, one might ask, whether there is an obligation for athletes to participate in national team competitions.

In Spain, article 23.2 c) of the Sports Law (Law 39/2022) establishes the obligation for every athlete to “comply when duly called up to the national team”. Any unjustified refusal is classified as a very serious offence under article 104.1 c) of the said law, punishable with fines or even suspension of the federal license for two to fifteen years. Furthermore, this obligation to comply is also laid down in the disciplinary regulations of various federations, such as the football or basketball federations, and comes with significant penalties in the event of a violation. Therefore, there is no doubt that every athlete of Spanish nationality is obliged to follow the call of his or her national team. In Germany, where there is no sports law, the national associations have stipulated similar obligations, e.g. in article 34 of the regulations of the DFB (German Football Association).

In addition, both the Spanish Sports Law and the regulations of national and international associations oblige clubs to release players called up for the national teams (as, for example, do the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, Annex 1).

In practice, these penalties are rarely imposed, as usually communications are made to the athletes prior to the call-up. However, the recent case of the Spanish women’s football team, where the new coach called up several players who refused to play for the national team and had stated so in advance, shows that the matter can acquire considerable significance in practice. Although this crisis was eventually resolved through last-minute negotiations, it should not be forgotten that many players were forced by the Spanish Football Federation to comply with the call-up against their will and followed the call for fear of fines and/or other penalties.