Football: Pressure on for players' compensation scheme

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The Independent Online
THE English game came under further pressure yesterday to provide an adequate compensation scheme for players whose careers are prematurely curtailed through injury when John O'Neill, the former Northern Ireland international, won an out-of-court settlement in his negligence and assault case against John Fashanu.

The door to litigation over injuries seemed to have been firmly shut after the Elliott- Saunders case in June when the judge found against the plaintiff, but O'Neill's pounds 70,000 award, after agreeing to withdraw his allegation of assault against Fashanu, would seem to have pushed it ajar.

'It's a door on a very loose hinge at the moment,' Graham Kelly, the Football Association's chief executive, said.

Half a dozen similar cases waiting in the pipeline might now come to court as a result of this latest outcome and the Professional Footballers' Association, which would prefer that its members sought recourse for redress within the confines of the game rather than squabble in public, is to push for a no-fault insurance policy to cover all players, costing pounds 3m a year.

'It's a massive amount of money,' Gordon Taylor, the PFA's chief executive said, 'but I feel the game should afford it to avoid the circus that we've had in the courts of member against member, football man against football man, and having judges decide what should really be a matter for referees and experienced football people. I feel very strongly that the game should come up with other options now.'

Those options consist primarily of two kinds of insurance, fault and no-fault, the former being by far the cheaper with culpability decided by an independent panel of experts drawn from within the game rather than a court of law with all the expense that entails. The downside to that option, Taylor said, was that it could lead to players, forced to retire through other's negligence, receiving more money than those retiring through general wear and tear.

'There's no easy option or it would have been taken,' Taylor said. 'At the moment it's coming down to improving the no-fault insurance, keeping arbitration and not excluding the right to go to court.'

The policy would allow for a player to receive three years' earnings up to a maximum of pounds 500,000 with some reducing by 10 per cent each year for a period after the age of 25.

Taylor accepted that in certain instances such a sum would be insufficient - in which case, a player would then have to go to the courts. He estimated that between 30-50 of the PFA's total membership of 3,000 were forced to retire each year through injury, though not usually in circumstances like O'Neill's.

The player was making his debut for Norwich City at Plough Lane when his career was wrecked in a clash with Fashanu which left him with serious ligament and nerve injury in his right knee. O'Neill, then 29, accused Fashanu of showing reckless disregard for his safety by going in with his leading leg high, his studs exposed and with no intention of playing the ball.

During two days in court, Mr Justice Collins heard witnesses describe Fashanu's tackle as dangerous and, according to the former Northern Ireland manager, Billy Bingham, a deliberate attempt to injure. The defence case was based on the argument that O'Neill, in choosing to play football, accepted the inevitable risks involved.