I-League club East Bengal have sought to terminate the contracts of some of their players and support staff, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the resultant cancellation of the remaining matches for the 2019-20 season. Some players have also told the Football Players' Association of India (FPAI), which is led by Renedy Singh, that they have been asked to take pay cuts of up to 50 per cent ahead of the next season to retain their place in the squad.
The situation is further complicated as the Kolkata club, celebrating its centenary this year, and their principal sponsors Quess are set to part ways on May 31, a decision they had taken even before the pandemic-induced lockdown.
Quess had come on board as sponsors for East Bengal in 2018, with the team finishing runners-up under Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez in the 2018-19 season. However, ESPN understands their relationship with the club had been strained over the past year, with a key point of difference arising when factions in the club were divided over whether to stand with the other I-League clubs in demanding a meeting with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) ahead of the 2019-20 season to discuss the league's future.
"All of a sudden, they [Quess] told us that they are running up massive losses, and they wouldn't like to invest in the club. We had decided ahead of this lockdown itself that May 31 will be the last day of their association with us," said Santi Ranjan Dasgupta, executive committee member of the club. The club CEO, Sanjit Sen, didn't respond to ESPN's calls or messages.
One of the members of the club's support staff received a mail from Sen citing the pandemic and the imminent dissolution of the club as the reasons behind seeking to terminate the existing contract as of April 30. This has been done in accordance with Article 12.2 of the contract, which removes both parties of any liability.
However, Article 10.4 of the contracts also requires the parties to give a 30-day notice before moving to terminate their contract. Further, the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), the international players' union, has assured FPAI that even if clubs invoke force majeure (Article 12.2), they cannot terminate contracts without the consent of the players. FPAI, on their part, have assured players that they will step in, if required.
"PFA met with FIFA and AFC some time ago and made it very clear that even if there's a force majeure in their contract, clubs have to sit down with players and come to a conclusion. Terminating their contract is not an option, and we have communicated the same to the players' agents," an FPAI official told ESPN. "At this point, the agents are trying to resolve this amicably."
The official also made it clear that dissociation with Quess does not absolve the club's responsibility towards paying the players. "The person asking to reduce salary is from East Bengal, and contract terminations are happening from Quess," the official said. "East Bengal is liable to pay the players, because by changing the name, the entity doesn't change legally."