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Media obligations and athlete welfare — should footballers be ‘mentally fit’ for interview?

AuthorsCarys ThorntonLaura Earps

7 min read


Media obligations and athlete welfare should footballers be mentally fit for interview

The media room isn’t always where an athlete wants to be — regardless of whether they’re speaking with journalists before or after a performance and whether they’re playing perfectly or poorly.

In football, most contracts and competition rules obligate players to appear before the media — no matter how they’re feeling.

With increasing attention on mental health and the welfare of our sports stars, Laura Earps and Carys Thornton ask — is the time now right to make a change and put player safety first?


The Mbappé incident

For most football players, media duties are simply an extension of their roles on the pitch. This is because competition rules — which are then carried into player contracts and participation agreements via the relevant football associations — stipulate that players must show up for the media and engage with their commercial partners.

France international Kylian Mbappé fell foul of this in December 2022 after refusing to take part in his media duties following a World Cup match in Qatar. 

At the time, Mbappé had three goals to his name in the tournament after scoring against both Denmark and Australia. He was also awarded Player of the Match in both games. While such an accolade generally means that you’re required to speak to the media, Mbappé refused. This was considered to be serious post-match misconduct by FIFA, which subsequently fined the France Football Federation (FFF).

Mbappé spoke out over the punishment, stating: “I have nothing against journalists, if I didn’t come to talk it’s because I need to fully concentrate on the competition and not waste energy on other things”. 


Footballer media obligations 

This incident raises the question — to what extent are players required to ‘show up’ following a bad result, perceived poor performance, ongoing issues off the pitch, injuries or simply because they don’t want to?

Pursuant to a player’s contract of employment with a Premier League club, a player is generally obliged to comply with certain duties for which they are remunerated. This is encompassed in the Premier League Handbook, which contains a template employment contract used for all Premier League players.

Clause 3 of the template contract sets out the duties and obligations of players. In particular, clauses 3.1.6 and 3.2.5 require players to “comply with and act in accordance with all lawful instructions of any authorised official of the Club” and “not to knowingly or recklessly do… or omit to do anything which is likely to… cause damage to the Club."

In addition, players’ specific media duties are set out at clause 4, titled "Community, Public Relations and Marketing". The obligations owed are extensive and encumber players with a seemingly endless list of duties when it comes to media activities.

Clause 4.1 states:

“For the purposes of the promotional community and public relations activities of the Club and/or (at the request of the Club) of any sponsors or commercial partners of the Club and/or of the League and/or of any main sponsors of the League the Player shall attend at and participate in such events as may reasonably be required by the Club including but not limited to appearances and the granting of interviews and photographic opportunities as authorised by the Club”.

Clause 4.1 continues to stipulate that players must make themselves available for:

“…up to six hours per week of which approximately half shall be devoted to the community and public relations activities of the Club”. 

It’s clear that any player who refuses to fulfil the club’s or competition organiser’s media requirements may breach both their playing contract terms and the competition rules, as well as any internal (club or national team) codes of conduct.


Commercial and third-party obligations

Clubs are also bound to media commitments by the Premier League Handbook. Rule K.129 states that each club must ensure that a player from its starting line-up is available for an interview with one TV broadcaster (or the League’s Appointed Production Partner) within the period between 45 and 120 minutes before the kick-off of a league match. Similarly, Rule K.135 states that after the conclusion of each league match, each club must ensure that it makes its player(s) available for interview. 

Such media commitments are enshrined in football law because competition organisers have contractual rights with their broadcast rights holders. For so long as this remains the case, competition organisers will seek to pass down media commitments to the players via their employment contracts with clubs and participation agreements with football associations. Similarly, competition organisers will want to ensure that the clubs themselves are also committing to media appearances.

The obligations imposed on players by clubs are there to facilitate fans’ attraction to the players, which in turn helps to sell the Premier League and other competitions to broadcasters. The more sensationalism around the players and the game, the higher the price that broadcasters will be willing to pay.

The significant revenues from broadcasters now play a fundamental role in driving the game. This makes it difficult for players to refrain from or avoid media commitments, as doing so may jeopardise their pay (either directly through a fine or indirectly through the devaluing of broadcasting rights) or their ability to participate (disciplinary action may be taken by way of a suspension). 

If players want to continue earning high sums of money, they’ll be expected to permit greater exposure to the media and their lives. However — no matter how key the media is in contributing to the development of the club’s image, branding and profit — should this come at a cost to players’ welfare?


Duty of care

Clubs and competition organisers owe a duty of care to the players. This should see them engage in behaviours that develop long-term loyalty, legitimacy, trust and equality. Players that are well supported and looked after are likely to play better, which will contribute to competitive advantage, financial performance and the appeal of a competition to fans.

If a player has had a tough match and doesn’t want to provide an interview to the media, there could be provision for this in their contract. While on the surface, a pre- or post-match interview may be regarded as a simple five-minute ‘chat’ about tactics or results, it’s important to appreciate that pressures felt by every player can be experienced through a variety of lenses — including discrimination based on nationality, race, religion, gender or stigmatisation over mental health.

Although sport (and football in particular) has long been an arena for breaking down differences, many personal and public pressures remain, which are felt differently from one player to the next. This will shape how resilient each player may feel when appearing in the media regularly. Some will enjoy the spotlight more than others, who may feel extremely vulnerable. 

It’s imperative that competition organisers, governing bodies and football clubs have an in-depth understanding of how different cultural and social factors impact players and the types of support they may need to comply with their contractual and participation responsibilities. 


Mental fitness to appear before the media

The various stakeholders that review and negotiate standard player contracts should consider incorporating different wording to improve player welfare. Instead of players only having to be ‘physically’ fit to appear before the media, they should also be ‘mentally’ fit.

One step further could also be to incorporate a discretionary (albeit limited) right for players to refuse media appearances no matter how they feel.

Given the power, influence and popularity of football on a global scale, it really is the case that competition organisers, governing bodies and clubs have the potential to be forces for good by leading from the front. 

By focusing on supporting and understanding players better, they have the potential to demonstrate how organisations can boost profit and publicity without doing so at the expense of their most valuable assets.


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