A soccer club canceled a player’s four-day old contract for testing HIV positive

Battling AIDS.
Battling AIDS.
Image: Reuters/Dadang Tri
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Only four days after signing a new contract with Al Ittihad, a club in Egypt’s Premier League, Cameroonian Samuel Nlend is on the look-out for a new club. His chances of finding one, however, are, all of a sudden, very slim. Nlend’s contract at the 102-year old Egyptian club was reportedly canceled after a routine medical test found the player tested positive for HIV.

Nlend, 21, is regarded as one of Cameroon’s brightest soccer prospects. He finished the last Cameroonian soccer league season as the top scorer with his former club, Union Douala. He played and scored for the Cameroonian senior team at the African Nations Championship in Rwanda earlier this year. The chance to play in Egypt, in one of Africa’s richest leagues, presented a platform to launch a lucrative career in world soccer. But those hopes have been dashed.

Nlend’s situation will raise questions over the legality of contract cancellations for a player’s HIV status in professional soccer. While clubs typically pull out of deals with players over a questionable health status—usually due to a lingering injury—terminating the contract solely because of a player’s HIV status is a different proposition. But it’s not one without precedent.

In 2013, the High Court of the Canton of Zurich ruled on a case between an unnamed soccer player and club (pdf, page 13) after the player’s contract was cancelled following the discovery of the player’s HIV-positive status.

For its part, the club argued that, under Swiss laws, it was entitled to canceling the player’s contract with just cause, especially due to  what it described as a “high risk of infection” among teammates. But the court ruled that the player’s contract could only be terminated justly if, after giving the player prior notice of a need to tell his teammates of the risk of infection, the player refused to do so. Consequently, the court ruled that the termination of the contract was not based on just cause.

In contrast, Egyptian laws require a negative HIV test result before work permits are granted to expats. Regardless, the club’s decision to publicly disclose Nlend’s status has drawn criticism.