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Own goal: Soccer club must pay out ex-coach sacked during COVID

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Nick Green coached in England before he was hired by Brisbane City FC. When the 2020 season ended early, so too did his contract – but not without a fight.

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Green coached four rounds of the National Premier League Queensland season before it was suspended last year. He had been paid $15,000, through his company Green Pitch Pty Ltd, and expected another $15,000 to see Brisbane City FC through the season.

Then on May 11, the club emailed Green to advise that “the contract between Brisbane City Football Club and Green Pitch Pty Ltd for the provision of coaching services is at an end having been frustrated due to the prolonged COVID19 restrictions which have prevented performance”.

Within hours, the club issued a press release to announce Matt Smith had been appointed coach, in addition to his role as football director, supported by John Murphy.

Green believed he had been short-changed $15,000 and made an appeal to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

QCAT heard the club had considered standing down Green indefinitely, or extending his contract, but discovered he was not eligible for JobKeeper because he was a contractor. Other coaches were kept on with the help of the Commonwealth income support payments.

While Green and the club had differing views of his actual job, the club told QCAT the announcement of Smith and Murphy was an attempt to “protect members and players from concern or panic” and they had little to do until the season resumed. Green noted that Murphy, as a new hire, would not have been eligible for JobKeeper.

QCAT adjudicator Michelle Lember found the club only deemed the contract with Green to have been frustrated in an attempt to avoid paying it out. She questioned whether Green would have been kept on had he been eligible for JobKeeper.

In any event, Lember found there was nothing stopping Green continuing to perform his role under the contract. After all, the club announced Smith and Murphy would be doing the same, so the pandemic could not be likened to other unforeseen major events that sometimes frustrate business contracts under law.

“In my view, a high-level football team cannot be likened to a ship stuck at port,” Lember wrote in her decision.

“When it is time for the ship to depart, it can be, with very little preparation (for example, the loading of fuel and supplies for the crew) ready to go. A football team cannot cease activity in the off-season and be ready to play matches on a whim.

“At all times prior to a season and during the season, even if matches aren’t being played, the team is being recruited, managed, assessed, trained and prepared mentally and physically for match play, and to be club representatives, liaising with sponsors, members and other stakeholders.

“The oversight and coordination of these activities was entrusted to the applicant under the contract and the suspension of the NPLQ did not prevent him – nor others after him – from undertaking that role.”

Brisbane City FC was ordered to pay Green $15,000, as was owed to him under their contract. Lember acknowledged the community football club feared such a payout could  “threaten its continued viability” but said it was correct under law.

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