Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) has raised the possibility of A-League players becoming free agents in the wake of Western Sydney Wanderers, Newcastle Jets and Adelaide United becoming the latest A-League side to stand-down players in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wanderers officially stood-down their playing group on Tuesday, with ESPN reporting that an email was sent to players saying that with no business being operated there were no revenue streams for the club to be able to pay salaries.
"This is an incredibly uncertain period for all clubs, businesses and individuals and like everyone we are trying to get through this as best we can,” Wanderers CEO John Tsatsimas said.
“We are looking at every possible scenario to find a way through this situation in an environment where there is no clear path.
“Our priority right now is to ensure this club has a future and that our players, coaches and staff are kept well informed and their well-being is maintained.”
Perth Glory and Central Coast Mariners have already stood-down their playing groups in recent days, while The Newcastle Herald has reported that the Jets and The Advertiser has reported that Adelaide United have joined them.
BREAKING: @NewcastleJetsFC are the latest club to stand down staff. 7 admin, 9 football staff and 26 players have been stood down until at least April 22. Staff and players have registered for Government Jobkeeper payments. @newcastleherald— James Gardiner (@JamesGardiner42) April 1, 2020
It is understood by FTBL that Brisbane Roar will also follow imminently and reports have also circulated that Western United are on the verge of standing-down their players.
Sydney FC and Melbourne City are currently the only A-League clubs that have committed to paying their players in the month ahead.
The PFA, which has been advocating for league-wide talks, issued immediate demands for player reinstatement in the wake of Glory and the Mariners’ decisions and are understood to be planning to do the same for every A-League club that follows a similar action.
However, in responding to Wednesday’s developments, the union for the first time flagged the possibility of seeking to allow players stood-down to become free-agents based on a breach of contract.
“Whether it is one club or all 11 clubs, our position on this will not change,” PFA Chief Executive John Didulica said.
“We will continue to fight for the players who have been dumped and preserve their legal rights, including challenging the stand down notices and, where instructed, seek free agency on the basis of this breach of contract.
“We have significant concerns about the impact the decisions of club owners are having on the wellbeing of our members, many of whom now face long term unemployment.
“It is entirely unnecessary for club owners to place their players in this situation when there is an alternative option – which is for the sport to work together – as we’ve seen across other mature and sophisticated sports.
“COVID-19 presents the greatest modern challenge to our organisation of sport. Actions not anchored in finding common solutions can only hurt. Short-term opportunism is coming at the expense of leadership and the long-term thinking that is now necessary.”
The stand-downs sweeping the A-League stand in stark contrast to the AFL and NRL, which have both negotiated league-wide agreements with their playing groups in response to the economic crisis imposed by COVID-19.
The AFL and AFL Player’s Association reached an agreement on Friday that sees players receive a 50% pay cut in April and May, with a sliding scale to be used for any further cuts depending on how many matches are played.
At the time of writing, the NRL and NRL Players Association were imminently expected to agree to an interim 75% pay cut.
The Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (APFCA), which was in the process of taking over the A-League prior to COVID-19 turning Australian football upside down, has been largely silent in recent weeks; FFA CEO James Johnson serving as the face of Australian football during the crisis.
Johnson, who only took up his role at the FFA in January, issued a plea for unity in a statement released on Tuesday but stopped short of indicating that he was set to intervene in the brewing civil-war between clubs and players.
“What we must begin to realise is that everything has shifted around us and we now operate in a different landscape to what we were used to. For our game to come through this successfully, we need to approach our current circumstances in a different way,” the FFA CEO said.
“Importantly, we need to demonstrate leadership which suits this new landscape. During this time, Australian football requires considered and thoughtful leadership and for our leaders to help each other and come together to tackle the challenges facing us via open dialogue and in a collaborative spirit.
“Instead of picking up the phone to tweet judgement, let’s make a call and ask for help or offer assistance. The politics of old and the pursuit of narrow interests at the expense of the best interests of the game will no longer work.”