The Labour Court Mainz is currently creating quite a stir in German professional sports. For decades, it was customary and recognized by the courts that contracts of professional athletes could be limited. The Labor Court in Mainz now sees this differently.
German goalkeeper Heinz Müller brought an action against his club Mainz 05. He had been under a fixed-term contract with the club since 2009, most recently between 2012 and summer 2014. The club Mainz 05 was of the opinion that because of uncertain progress in performance of the player (Müller, in 2012, was already 34 years old), and because of it being customary practice in the industry, a fixed-term contract was permissible. However, the Labour Court Mainz instead agreed with Müller's complaint, and explained that with regard to the last contract of employment, there were no substantive exculpatory reasons. The central assertion of the Labour Court is that even in professional sports, the mere uncertainty of future performance does not justify a limitation.
The club Mainz 05 has announced plans to appeal. The case carries explosive force and is expected to be decided before the Federal Labour Court or the European Court of Justice. This can take time, and there is uncertainty whether countless professional sports contracts contain invalid fixed-term clauses.
The decision can hit the clubs hard. That the uncertain progress in performance of professional athletes should not justify a term limitation is difficult to accept. Careers of professional football players regularly end no later than in the athlete’s late 30s. This must be taken into account. Either the legislature must intervene, or collective bargaining agreements in professional sports must regulate practice-oriented term limitations in the future. First, however, the opinion of the Labour Court Mainz must contend with the judicial instances. Thus, the game is not over by a long shot.