Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Monday, October 08, 2007
Caught with his pants down… but fists up!
Luiz Filipe Scolari, or Big Phil as he is called in the world of Soccer, is one of the great coaches of the modern sport. He won the FIFA World Cup in 2002 with Brazil and was subsequently employed by the Portuguese Federation. With Big Phil at the helm, the Portuguese went on from being a bunch of talented but perennial under-achievers to become European Cup finalists in 2004 and FIFA World Cup semi-finalists in 2006, and a force to be reckoned with. Big Phil became one of the major sporting figures in Portugal and it was only natural that major sponsors sought his endorsement, especially during the Euro Cup 2004 in Portugal.
Last year Caixa Geral de Depósitos, Portugal’s main banking institution, secured Big Phil’s endorsement and during the latter months of 2007 Big Phil was on every TV screen telling the story of his life, according to the currencies of the countries where he lived, in an excellent add by Young & Rumicam. The contract runs out until 29 June 2008, final day of the Euro Cup 2008.
But the qualifiers for the 2008 Euro Cup have dramatically changed things. Portugal is currently lingering in third place behind Finland and Poland and is by no means assured of its place in the finals. To add insult to injury, Scolari got himself involved in a fight with Dragutinovic, a Serbian defender, after the unexpected 1-1 draw in Lisbon. Quaresma, one Portugal’s brightest stars, got into a scuffle with Dragutinovic and Big Phil interceded in the worst of manners. The attempted left jab is clear and there was little Scolari could argue in his defense, other than the usual claims of having been provoked. It actually took Big Phil a day before he could muster a few apologetic words to the fans. UEFA punished Scolari with a 4-game ban and a penalty, reduced to 3-game ban and the same penalty on appeal.
Why is this case interesting from a legal standpoint? First, the Portuguese federation had just cause to terminate the employment contract with Scolari, thus reacting to the dismal displays of late while avoiding a big pay-off. No such action was taken and Big Phil’s employers’ still believe he is the right man to take Portugal to the Euro Cup finals.
Much more interestingly, it is possibly one of the first cases in Portugal where a Sponsor is pondering the termination of a contract with a sports-related celebrity on the basis of the latter’s actions. The latest campaign featuring Scolari has been removed, allegedly because its timing has run out, but rumors have started. Reportedly, Caixa Geral de Depósitos is about to drop Big Phil (apologies for the link in Portuguese...). It makes sense. The Brazilian’s stock has dropped heavily in tandem with struggling performances by the National side and there was no one in Portugal who publicly took his side in the Serbian match fracas. It seems pretty obvious that an attempted jab (not too sure whether UEFA have decided it was more than an attempt…) is cause for termination of the contract, considering there is the reputation, image and goodwill of Caixa to protect. However, it all depends on the specific wording of the contract, especially the morality clause.
Big Phil was hired and adored for his results and behavior in equal measure. Wikipedia is spot on when describing the larger than life Scolari:
[he] is famous for his temper and for his histrionic "performance" by the field while the match is going on, reacting strongly to both the best and the worst moments of his team. (...) His strong character has earned him a controversial reputation of encouraging a violent behaviour on the part of the players (though he is more often quoted scolding referees for not stopping violence) and in his early years in Brazil he was often sent off for excessively complaining with the referees. His character, however, is often seen as a good point, instead of a drawback, because he tries to keep the players (and himself) free of external pressures: he usually demands a lot more of freedom than most coaches are allowed and is bent on exerting a somewhat discretionary power. Some critics mostly agree that his unique character was very beneficial to the Portuguese national team, which had a tradition of talented players but never won anything because of excessive intervention from the federation, the clubs and the player's agents, as well as a lack of a true "team spirit".
The point can be made that the same fiesty character that lead to a punch being thrown has been highly beneficial to the Portuguese team. How much of a surprise or shock can Big Phil’s antics cause to a sponsor? Can Caixa reasonably claim this has come totally out of the blue, and does not accord to Scolari's past behaviour? And is this not a case where Caixa are happy to enforce the morality clause when in fact the surprise and shock are coming from the utterly disgraceful sporting results (which in principle do not cast upon the sponsor the right to terminate)?
A bit far fetched, I know. But if I were Big Phil’s attorney, the morality clause would be my biggest concern.