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Witness the Fitness

Are you the victim of an unfair gym contract?

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December is notoriously the quietest month for gym attendances with works drinks and parties taking precedence during the Festive and New Year period. With all the over indulgence and gluttony, for many comes the January remorse. New Year’s resolutions are made with the best intentions of a ‘fresh start’ in 2014. Top of the list for many will be a fitter and healthier ‘you’. The first port of call will be a return to the gym or joining a new gym. But what happens when the wave of enthusiasm for the gym wanes?

What have you actually been coaxed into signing up to? A 12, 24 or 36 month minimum term contract perhaps? The overly-enthusiastic sales member desperate to meet his lofty January sales target following a tumble weed year end persuades you that the longer the contract the cheaper the monthly rate will be. You do the maths and work out that you can afford the £50 a month membership, what’s £600 a year to look like Daniel Craig or Nicole Scherzinger on your next beach holiday? But then what happens if your circumstances change?

Fortunately for you the Office of Fair Trading has been fighting your corner for the last few years. The successful outcome of the case in the High Court against a gym management firm; OFT v Ashbourne Management Services Limited and others [2011] EWHC 1237 put into the spotlight some of the most unfair terms in gym membership contracts. The case found that minimum membership periods of two and three years were unfair and that one year contracts were unfair if the member could not terminate the agreement for reasons such as redundancy, illness or injury. The court found that members should not have to pay membership fees immediately and in full if they terminated their contract prior to the minimum membership period. The court held such a requirement was unfair and amounted to a penalty.

Four of the biggest gym chains include Bannatyne Fitness, David Lloyd, Fitness First and Virgin Active. Following the OFT’s study, these gyms have take steps to ensure there is greater transparency from the outset when a customer signs up, regarding length of membership periods and an individual’s cancellation rights. The general theme across the gyms was that there would be more options for the type of membership they could sign up for. The market pressure from No-Contract, No-Frills gyms have forced the more expensive gyms to be more attractive to the consumer. Gyms such as Pure gym which offer a no joining fee, rolling contract at more than half the price of the lavish gyms have really put their stamp on the marketplace.

So you have done your research, been round the gym, had the sales pitch, now you are sat down in a side office, direct debit details in hand, ready to take the first step towards a healthier lifestyle, what should you be asking?

The advice on the OFT website is to make sure you can confidently answer the following 4 questions and appreciate the consequences:-

1. How long is the contract?

2. Can you cancel the contract early if your circumstances change or if you change your mind?

3. Will the contract be automatically extended after the initial membership period?

4. Do you have the time to go to the gym and can you afford the monthly payments?

Please do not hesitate to contact one of our team if you think you are subject to unfair terms in a contract.

Adrian Rattenbury – Sports Consultant

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Football match fixing; a modern day problem that could learn from its past

The recent arrest of six men by the National Crime Agency over match fixing allegations has taken the football headlines from the back of the newspapers to the front pages.

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Ex-Premier League player Delroy Facey is the most notable of those alleged and his picture is being widely used in many press articles.

So what are the legal implications for Delroy Facey? In Criminal proceedings Facey could be charged under the Bribery Act along with any of the following; money-laundering, fraud or conspiracy offences. The Bribery Act has a 10 year maximum custodial sentence and large fines at the discretion of the court.

In Civil proceedings individuals would be subject to disciplinary procedures from their club and penalties could be sanctioned by the Football Association. If clubs were discovered to have played any part in an event of match-fixing they could be liable for all or a combination of the following; points-deductions, large fines, possible relegation and possible insolvency. If the match-fixing became a national scandal commercial partners and sponsors such as those who supported Lance Armstrong through his Tour de France seven victory reign would be queuing up to file their own law suits.

So if we look at some recent examples of how players who have been caught match fixing have been dealt with. The Football Association suspended and fined four players for betting on the outcome of the match between Accrington Stanley and Bury in May 2008. James Harris of Accrington Stanley received the longest suspension, one year and fined £5k after the FA’s Regulatory Commission delivered a guilty verdict that Harris had bet on his team’s match against Bury (Bury coming out 2-0 winners).

So perhaps the deterrent does not outweigh the costs. The average salary for a conference player is £500 a week, with this being their only income as 21 of the 24 clubs are now full-time professional the Telegraph’s Singaporean fixer has quoted players throwing a game for as little as £70k.

So if we took the fine and suspension Harris suffered, his loss of earnings at the conference average would amount to £24k for the year put on top his fine of £5k his total loss would only be £29k. 29k is still less than 50% of the total haul he would have potentially received if the Telegraph’s whistleblower is to be believed. This is before you factor in the £2K he staked on his side to lose. Arguably the costs don’t outweigh the benefits?

But it hasn’t always been like this has it? A former England centre-half by the name of Peter Swan had won 19 caps in a row and many including Jimmy Greaves say Swan would have been preferred in defence to England’s Jack Charlton in the 1966 World Cup winning side. Swan would be remembered as the most high profile name in what the People newspaper described as “The Biggest Sports Scandal of the Century”.

Swan bet against his own team Sheffield Wednesday to lose away to Ipswich Town. He placed a £50 bet at odds of 2-1 that they would lose on the fateful day, 1st December 1962. The Bookmakers lost £35k on that match, Swan lost his career. Swan was given a four-month jail sentence for conspiracy to defraud and a life ban from football (The ban was eventually lifted in 1972 following lobbying from the MP Joe Ashton and Sir Matt Busby). The financial penalty was two weeks’ wages and Swan was ordered to pay £100 towards his legal costs ironically the same amount which he profited from the bet itself.

Perhaps the threat of a life ban needs to be reinstated as the financial penalties alone are not deterring players from betting against their own team to lose?

Jim Pearson – Sports Consultant

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