Despite having negotiated since the fall of last year, the Danish Football Federation (DBU) and the national team players have failed to reach a new agreement, which saw the players decide to strike and not show up for camp on Monday ahead of their friendly against EURO 2017 winners the Netherlands – something they had stated they would do if there was no new agreement in time.

Now the dispute between DBU and the players has resulted in the federation cancelling the highly prestigious and sold out friendly between the two European Championship finalists, Denmark and the Netherlands. Even more worryingly, it could have serious consequences for Denmark’s upcoming World Cup qualifier against Hungary.

This dispute has two central figures: DBU and the players/Spillerforeningen (the players association). It is probably a given, but DBU is the Danish Football Federation and is the main governing body when it comes to football in Denmark. Opposite the DBU are the players, who are being represented by Spillerforeningen (SPF henceforth). SPF is a union/association for professional footballers in Denmark and they have around 1,000 members, where 250 are full-time professionals.

In ongoing disputes like this there will always be a lot of “he said, she said” and statements being made to the press in an attempt to add pressure on the other part, as well as there being a lot of issues that will never be shared with the public. This dispute is no different, but I will try and give an overview of what has led to this unfortunate episode.

There are some complicated legal matters in play too, and I will be the first to admit that it is not my strong suit and neither party has been very clear on this either, so apologies if that part is a little confusing. Also, the obligatory disclaimer that a lot has been said on this, and while I have done my research, something might have escaped my attention.

The previous deal

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The previous deal between the two parties ran out on September 1st, but was initially extended until September 5th. This was done because the women’s senior national team isn’t the only national team that is currently in a dispute with DBU – the men’s U21 team had an important European Championship qualifier against Lithuania on September 5th. According to DBU, they have offered to once again extend the previous deal, something they say SPF has refused.

What exactly the previous deal entails in full is uncertain, but according to Danish outlet BT, the players have thus far received 2500DKK (a little over £300) for every World Cup, European Championship or Olympic qualifier they have been selected for.

They would receive a further 2500DKK for each of the qualifying games they had participated in if they qualified for the tournament. For friendlies on home soil, the players received ten Category 1 tickets and eight VIP tickets (where food after the match was not included), but no ‘wage.’ The players could also apply for a DBU grant of either 4000DKK, 3000DKK or 1000DKK a month, which is something 18 players have done.

What is the dispute about?

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It goes without saying that one of the key elements of the dispute is an improvement in the previous deal, and what the ‘fee’ should be for playing for the national team, but other key areas such as insurance, access to treatment, diet, training conditions, grants, compensation etc. are all conditions that are central in the ongoing conflict.

DBU claims that they have offered a deal that sees a 46 % improvement, while they state that SPF is demanding an increase of 342 %. Another Danish outlet, Tipsbladet, understands that the 342 % is what the SPF entered the negotiations with, but that the players have eased their demands. The exact nature of the increase and what it would mean for a future deal is something only the two parties know.

In her role as captain, Pernille Harder has been speaking on behalf of the players: “We have made some clear and reasonable demands for improvements. We must be able to make it go round for us as players when we are away with the national team. As it is right now it doesn’t.

“We must have a strong collective agreement that respects our basic rights and assures our fundamental rights, for example statutory occupational injury insurance as the case is with the deal that expires today.

“We are ambitious, and DBU are ambitious on our behalf. In order to achieve the goal of qualifying for the World Cup and the Olympics, it requires a better framework and better conditions. And we only get that through a new strong collective agreement.”

The DBU on the other hand have argued that the demands would raise the cost for the federation five to ten times what they are currently spending.

However, another decisive point in the ongoing dispute, is a question about whether the DBU should be seen as the players’ employer when they are on National Team duty, which would have a significant effect on how a deal should be negotiated and the role of the SPF in negotiations.

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This is not a new issue between DBU and SPF, as this was also a discussion point two years ago when the men were negotiating a new deal – something I will come back to.

The above quote from Pernille Harder shows how adamant the players are that any deal should be a collective one, and it has even been quoted as an ultimate demand. On the other side, the DBU have been very clear that they cannot be seen as the employer, because the clubs are.

As Jakob Høyer, head of communications in DBU, says: The most important element for DBU in a new agreement is to establish that we are not an employer.  “The players are employees of the clubs. This must be clear in future agreements. We want to make a good National Team agreement with the players, but we are employers and it is not a term of employment relationship between DBU and the players when it comes to playing on the national team.” 

During a negotiation meeting, the DBU has, allegedly, brought up ‘konkurrenceloven’ (law on competition conditions in Denmark). Boiling this down, DBU allegedly considers the players to individually be their own ‘company,’ and it would be against Danish law to negotiate collectively with them, as that could be seen as a cartel and disrupt competition. Fairly complicated legal matters that I will not get into too much, but the article (in Danish) can be read here. A breach of konkurrenceloven could essentially mean fines and prison for the players, something the players have stated DBU have mentioned.

According to Ekstrabladet, it would be the player council (Pernille Harder, Line Røddik, Simone Boye and Janni Arnth) who would be held responsible for a breach of konkurrenceloven. It has to be stated that according to associate professor in competition law at Copenhagen University, Christian Bergkvist, the konkurrencelov is only applicable if the players are not seen as employees of DBU; if they are considered employees, the law does not apply.

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Neither of the players in the player council were present at said meeting due to availability, but another National Team player, Sanne Troelsgaard, said: “On Tuesday I arrived for negotiations with the DBU, where I thought we would negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. About better insurance, bonuses, scholarships etc. So it was very weird to suddenly be at a meeting where DBU’s lawyer spent the first hour talking about breach of konkurrenceloven, and about whether I’m an employee or a company. It was very strange.”

Pernille Harder also added: “I was shocked. We were all shocked that DBU was capable of threatening us with some competition law, which I have to admit I do not fully understand.

“In the player group, we believe we are strongest together. That is how we play, and that’s how we represent Denmark as best as possible. We thought DBU agreed. And then it feels strange to be threatened with things that can lead to fines and imprisonment because we stand together”

DBU’s head of communication Jakob Høyer has said the claims stem from misunderstandings and exaggerations: “DBU would like to do collective agreements with players. DBU would like to enter into agreements where the SPF are part of signing the deal, and in that way are the player’s advisor. And of course we would never try and make any arrangements that could lead to fines or jail or anything else.” 

This is not the only part of negotiation progress that the two parties disagree on. While Høyer and DBU claimed that the SPF called off the negotiations after the aforementioned meeting, Sanne Troelsgaard, who was present at the meeting, has refuted this claim. Whoever actually called off negotiations after that meeting, the result was that since Tuesday (5th of September) the two parties assumedly didn’t meet face-to-face until this Sunday (10th of September) to negotiate – just one day before the players were supposed to meet up for camp. Sure the two parties could have been negotiating without the public knowing, but it doesn’t send a good signal to the public.

It’s understandable if people are getting confused about what is really happening between the two parties – because even the two parties seem to be somewhat confused. However, it is clear the players want a new deal that improves their conditions, but there is also a huge issue about the employment question. Both parties seem to be pretty adamant on their stance – DBU does not consider the players as their employees, and do not wish to be seen as such legally, while the players are adamant that they are.

A ghost from the past

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It is important to remember that this is not the first time that negotiations between SPF and the DBU have culminated in widespread disagreements. In 2015, it nearly ended in a strike when the men’s senior National Team were locked in negotiations with the DBU. Only a last minute agreement ensured that the side could play their friendly against the USA. This dispute and subsequent agreement seems to have had consequences for the ongoing conflict between the women’s senior National Team and the DBU if Tipsbladet are to be believed.  

Tipsbladet have learned that several people within DBU, also on the board, were very unsatisfied with the agreement that was reached back then and felt it was a high price to pay for a friendly with the USA. As a result, Tipsbladet have learned that DBU’s negotiators this time have not been given much leeway to negotiate. A consequence of this has been that DBU have been very set in their ways and have held on to their idea that they cannot legally be seen as the employer, and that it would be in conflict with konkurrenceloven to negotiate a collective deal the way the players want it.

It is also worth noting that the men’s agreement is up for negotiation next year, and as Tipsbladet have also said, DBU could be afraid that whatever they agree now with the women, could be a precedent for future negotiations – especially with the men where the monetary cost involved would be significantly higher.

One can only hope that the issues are resolved, or some intermediate solution arises, before Denmark’s World Cup Qualifier a week from now, as it could have serious consequences if they are not.

Pernille Harder has stated that the players are ready to negotiate night and day, but has also said that after the meeting ended Sunday, DBU has shown no desire to negotiate. The next thing the players heard from them, was that the friendly was cancelled, a cancellation Harder called “unnecessary.”