Sports lawyer explains Kurt Zouma contract issues facing West Ham amid cat video controversy

West Ham’s Kurt Zouma caused outrage by kicking his cat in an infamous video which went viral earlier this month.

A leading sports lawyer believes West Ham United will be tied by Kurt Zouma’s contract as they deal with the recent controversy surrounding the French defender.

Video footage of Zouma kicking and slapping his pet cats provoked understandable outrage, after it was circulated on social media earlier this week.

The cats have now been removed from Zouma’s care after thousands of complaints were placed with the RSPCA and West Ham moved to condemn the former Chelsea star, but they continue to insist he is available for selection.

The Hammers have fined Zouma two week’s wages - around £250,000 - but refused to suspend the France international, who played the entire 90 minutes of the Hammers’ 1-0 win against Watford on Tuesday night.

Many had expected West Ham to impose a more severe punishment on the centre-back and there had been speculation they could even sack Zouma for bringing the club into disrepute.

However, a leading expert has suggested the Hammers will have to follow a strict process before deciding on whether to take further action.

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Stephen Taylor Heath, Head of Sports Law at JMW Solicitors: “As far as the club itself is concerned, the standard player contract allows the club to act if the player knowingly or recklessly does or says anything that brings the club or game into disrepute or causes damage to the club.

“The club would however have to respect the disciplinary procedures in the contract.

“That would normally entail an investigation and possibly suspension while an investigation takes place, and a disciplinary hearing may be convened.

“If West Ham are following those procedures, they may feel aggrieved if sponsors have jumped ship whilst the process is ongoing. The sponsors seem to have taken action based on the view the video evidence is out there as is the fact the player played for the club and was not suspended notwithstanding the club had been made aware of the situation.

“The club must abide by the contract, employment law and football regulations in taking any action. The sponsor simply must look to its legal rights under the contract.”

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Taylor Heath also believes the situation presents a dilemma for West Ham’s sponsors with several said to be monitoring the Hammers’ next move.

“Normally the club sponsor has the right to use the player in a ‘team’ context,” he added.

“Arguably therefore the player’s actions do not necessarily give a club sponsor the right to terminate. What does matter however is how the club deals with the situation.

“Hence some of West Ham’s sponsors have said they are ‘monitoring’ the situation before acting. 

“If they feel the club’s response reflects badly on the club and therefore the sponsor, they may trigger the termination clause which now seems to be the situation with some of West Ham’s sponsors.”