Law No.91 of 1981 provides for a special set of regulations on professional sport practice.
Speaking in general the practice of sport activity cannot be restricted by State legislation, but in fact at professional level it is subject to the rules of sports organizations, with special reference to CONI (Italian National Olimpic Committee), the public body working in connection with international federations and sport’s organizations.
Members of sport clubs are automatically bound by its regulations. In case of conflict between these regulations and state law , the latter prevails.
Two conditions are provided (Sect. 2 of the Law 91/1981) to qualify a sportsman as a professional:
a. authorization by the national sports federations;
b. receiving a salary for practicing a sport.
When these conditions are satisfied, the activity performed by the athlete is considered as working activity (instead of amateur activity).
The activity carried out by a professional athlete (Sect.3) is considered work to be governed by an employment contract (which is therefore the prevailing structure for the relationship), unless the conditions of self-employment are present (they are: a) the activity takes place in a single or in a series of sporting events over a short period of time; b) the athlete is not bound by contract to attend training or preparation sessions; c) the services provided do not exceed eight hours per week or five days per month or thirty days per year).
Employment relationship in sport has specific characteristics making it differ from a common employment relationship.
• Form of the contract: In sport the employment contract must be in writing, otherwise it is null and void. The contents of the contract (Sect.4) must reflect the contents of the standard contract drafted by the relevant national sports federation, that have remarkable powers in the collective bargaining process and actually check every single contract.
• Trade union organization: there is only one association for each sport, for instance for soccer the trade union is the A.I.C. (Association of Italian Soccer Players). The trade union activity does not concern so much the negotiation of pay, but rather other aspects of the relationship (reduction of bounds, legal assistance, protection of players against insolvency of the club or exploitation of their image).
• Players’ obligations: the sport activity must be performed (Sect.4) according to the rules of the club, following its technical instructions and training indications. The exercise of power by the management is stronger than that exercised in an ordinary employment relationship. For example, the employer has the right to interfere and investigate into the employee’s private life and opinions, while this is generally forbidden by the Workers’ Statute (Law 300/1970) in other employment relations. Further audio-visual surveillance of workers’ activities and health checks on workers in order to verify their physical efficiency are allowed.
• Unilateral termination of the employment relationship: Sect. 18 of the Workers’ Statute and Law No. 604/1966 on individual dismissal do not apply to the sports sector. Under Law No.91/1981 , except where federations rules, contract standards or collective agreements provide otherwise, the principle of dismissal “at will” operates in derogation to Sect.2118 and 2119 of the Civil Code.
Transfer of players:
Law No.91/1981 abolished “sports bonds” previously regulating the transfer of professional sportsmen from one club to another and introduced a form of compensation, the “training and promotional fees” to be paid by the buyer club to the former employer.
Following the judgement issued by the Court of Justice of the European Communities with regard to the so-called “Bosman case”, Law Decree No.272/1996 adjusted the national law with the new principles, and abolished the requirement to pay the “training and promotional fees” in case of transfer of professional athletes, maintaining it only for soccer players signing their first professional contract. Therefore, the “training compensation” is now provided only in favour of the last club where the athlete was performing his sport activity at amateur level.
Professional sportsmen are subject to social insurance for disability, old-age and survivor’s pensions (Sect.9) managed by the Italian Entertainment Industry Employees Pension Organization (ENPALS).
In accordance with the levels in force within the framework of the General Compulsory Insurance System (AGO), from January 2007 the contribution rates to be paid by employees having entered into the pension fund for professional sportsmen amounts to 33% (23,81% to be paid by employers and the other 9,19% to be paid by employees).
Workers are eligible for pension benefits after at least 20 years of contributions, at age of 52 (men) and 47 (women).
Health assistance of professional sportsmen is strictly disciplined: health report updated every six months by the medical responsible of the club, and insurance policies covering any possible health risk coming from the sport activity are compulsory as well.