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Soccer-FIFA says Webster verdict "damages" soccer

BERNE, Jan 31 (Reuters) - World soccer’s governing body FIFA has expressed “dismay” at a controversial ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the case of Wigan defender Andy Webster.

FIFA said on Thursday that the court’s decision to lower the costs awarded against the player for breaching his contract with former club Hearts would have “far-reaching and damaging effects on the game as a whole.”

The Lausanne-based court ordered Webster and Wigan to pay Hearts a reduced fine of 150,000 pounds ($298,900) on Wednesday after he walked out on the Scottish Premier League side in May 2006 with just over a year remaining on his contract.

FIFA’s own Dispute Resolution Chamber had earlier imposed a sanction of 625,000 pounds while Hearts had asked CAS to award 4.6 million in recognition of the club’s estimated value of the player.

By instead reducing the fine to match “merely” the amount of Webster’s salary still owing under his existing contract with Hearts, FIFA said on Thursday that the court’s decision could “subvert” contractual stability in the sport.

“The decision which CAS took...is very damaging for football and a Pyrrhic victory for those players and their agents, who toy with the idea of rescinding contracts before they have been fulfilled,” FIFA President Joseph Blatter was quoted as saying in Thursday’s statement.

“Because of this unfortunate decision, the principle of contractual stability...has been deemed less important than the short-term interests of the player involved.”

In particular, FIFA insisted that CAS had failed properly to interpret Article 17 of FIFA’s regulations on the status and transfer of players.

The article sets out the possible sanctions that can be imposed on players who unilaterally breach their contracts and applies only to players who give notice within 15 days of the end of their club’s season.

It can also only be invoked by players who have already served three years of their existing contract -- or two years in the case of players aged 28 or over.

Webster was the first player to make use of the article.

FIFA acknowledged on Thursday that the article put forward a player’s remaining salary entitlements as one of the objective criteria available for determining compensation.

It added, though, that the list of criteria “was not exhaustive” and that its dispute chamber maintained the right to decide individual cases “taking into account solely what is fair...in the case at hand.”

World soccer’s governing body warned that small clubs could face “an even more aggressive approach towards their players” if the Webster case was seen as setting a precedent.

Wealthy clubs, FIFA added, could lose their motivation to train and educate new players and instead sign a greater number of players in the knowledge that they could simply terminate the contracts of unwanted players.

Thursday’s statement concluded by stating that “should the protection of contractual stability finally indeed be subverted, FIFA will consider appropriate measures to safeguard the special nature of sport.” (Editing by Clare Lovell)

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