From the foregoing analysis of the liability of employers for industrial injuries or disease caused to employees, it is clear that the playing and coaching staff of some of these football clubs have suffered mishaps on their way to prosecuting an important game for the club.
By the terms of their contract, they are obliged to obey lawful instructions from their employers, the clubs. Part of these lawful instructions is to travel in the team buses provided by the employers to prosecute matches for the club.
Refusal by any employee to travel in the team’s buses would clearly be interpreted as insubordination by the employee and could be a ground for misconduct.
The playing and coaching staff are obliged by the terms of their contract to travel in those buses and by road. Accordingly, any resultant injury or loss incurred by the playing and coaching staff would be deemed to have been suffered in the course of employment.
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Under the Nigerian Professional Football League Framework Rules, clause 12.12 of the Commercial Framework of the Rules only obliges the clubs to ensure that they maintain a medical insurance scheme approved by the LMC and comply with all relevant Pension laws and or special bridging Players pension approved by the LMC.
Curiously, clause 6.1.3 of the Framework Rules suggests that this provision is not obligatory when it provides in part that where the club’s medical insurance does not cover medical and dental examinations for a player who is injured or ill, then the club is obliged to maintain a policy upon normal industry terms commonly available within professional football clubs.
What is deemed normal industry terms is not defined in the Rules and understandably gives the clubs a leeway to circumvent the existing regulations. Admittedly, the Employer’s Liability Insurance Provisions under the Pension Reforms Act are inadequate to meet the demands of global best practices.
Professional sport is work and therefore, an aspect of the law that needs to be accorded serious attention is work health and safety. Even though there is an implied term at common law that obliges an employer to exercise a duty of care to ensure the safety of its employees, there needs to be bespoke legislation that would expressly provide that those conducting a business owe a duty of care to ensure the safety of its workers and to exercise due diligence in taking reasonable steps to comply with work health safety obligations.
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One renowned author posits that sport does not enjoy any privileges when it comes to work health and safety law as there is no broad exception for sport, and suggests policies for extreme heat conditions, pitch inspections, padding on posts etc., as examples of what can be implemented as reasonable and practical.
In commending this to the regulators in the Nigerian sports industry, it is clear that people participating in professional sports are classified as employees working under a contract of service and accordingly, entitled to employee insurance protection. The standard practice globally is to enact laws that provide elaborate protection for sportspeople in respect of sports injuries.
Australia for instance, enacted the Sporting Injuries Insurance Act to provide compensation for participants in all sports. It establishes the Sporting Injuries Compensation Authority which is tasked with creating a fund called the “Sporting Injuries Fund” and determining the premiums for each sporting organization.
Premiums should cover both the playing and coaching staff as well as sports umpires. Sports clubs should be made to pay their premiums at the beginning of every season to ensure that compensation is paid to deserving persons.
Sports teams and organizations should be mandated by the regulators to create a work health safety policy in their organizations with a special Committee created to ensure compliance.
These steps would no doubt ensure that sports organizations and their employees are not embroiled in protracted insurance litigation. The club licensing regulations should be amended to incorporate stringent penalties for non-compliance.