By Andrew Warshaw
November 29 – The findings of the biggest global survey to date of working conditions in men’s professional football has thrown up a raft of startling conclusions, destroying the myth that most players live in a protective bubble, drive fast cars and lead enviable millionaire lifestyles.
Compiled by the international players’ union FIFpro in conjunction with Manchester University, the comprehensive report, which stretches to over 100 pages and 25,000 words, covers the length and breadth of the football pyramid and is designed to raise public awareness about the stark realities faced by the majority of players across the globe – notably low wages, intimidation and precious little job security – as distinct from the select few playing in glamorous leagues in countries like England and Spain.
Providing of snapshot of what it means to a professional player in 2016, the so-called FIFPro Global Employment Report attempts to quantify the extent of the problem of players’ rights and remove the guesswork. It is based on feedback from nearly 14,000 current players in 54 countries and 87 leagues across Europe, the Americas and Africa. A separate report covering Asia and Oceania and including eight more countries was conducted for FIFPro by the University of Malaysia.
To compile its data, FIFpro invited players to anonymously share their stories and respond to 23 questions covering subjects such as salaries, contracts, transfers, training, match-fixing, violence, job security, health, well-being and education. The result is an alarming picture of an industry fraught with injustice and immorality with even the most basic employment standards being abused, in stark contrast to the perception that players and their agents hold all the power.
Among the findings is the revelation that the average contract length is just under two years while thousands of footballers have at some stage had their wages stopped and suffer uncertain futures. Over 40% of those questioned said they had experienced delays, with Malta, Turkey and Romania being among the worst culprits in Europe.
The report also revealed that 29% of players who moved for a transfer fee said they were either put under pressure to join another club or did not go to the team of their choice. “For many players, the market powers are stacked against them – low pay, short career, short contracts and a high probability of facing abuse of disrespect of contracts,” the survey stated.
In terms of salaries, 45% of those surveyed earn less than $1,000 a month with the median net monthly salary worldwide ranging between $1,000 and $2,000, a far cry from some of the inflated wages paid in Europe’s top leagues. Only 8.2% of respondents earned over $15,000 a month while 32% said they received less than 10 days’ annual leave.
Even more alarmingly, perhaps, when it comes to match-fixing almost 7% of players – one in 14 – reported they had personally experienced direct approaches to fix games over the course of their career, with that figure rising to 11% for players in their thirties. Players on lower wages or paid late were the most vulnerable targets, with Cyprus the biggest worry in Europe with 40.5% of 235 respondents saying they were aware of fixing and 18.6% saying they had been approached to fix a game.
Additionally almost one in 10 players reported experiencing physical violence, with almost 16 percent reporting threats of violence. The Democratic Republic of Congo was singled out as the worst country for both violence and threats of violence from supporters on match days. Scotland was surprisingly in second place in the latter category. For threats of violence on non-match days, Italy was by far the worst country, with 24% of players saying they had been menaced by fans.
It is important to note that the survey contained no data from players in some of the biggest leagues – including England, Spain, Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands – due to non-existent or insufficient feedback. This clearly had an impact on the overall conclusions but the data still makes for grim reading.
“This report for the first time provides a detailed and accurate picture of what the average professional player experiences,” said FIFPro General-Secretary Theo Van Seggelen. “We now have an evidence base for the reforms that are needed in the football industry. Overdue payables, forced transfers and training alone – all this must be a thing of the past. Not every football player has three cars in three different colours. Our players are normal human beings and they deserve to be paid on time because they also have children and a mortgage. It’s a wake-up call for clubs and governing bodies. We cannot accept it any longer. I hope clubs realise they have to feel really ashamed because this is the reality.”
While FIFPro has for years been banging the drum for improved rights for its members, this is the first time the organisation has been able provide so much detail of how players survive beneath elite level. The hope now is that FIFA and the other governing bodies take action in terms of wages and contracts being respected.
Van Seggelen, who has presented the report to the European Commission, wants stronger sanctions against those who do not pay their players on time. “Controls are needed and if a federation is not willing to do it in the proper way then you must have the guts to say their national team can no longer play qualifying games, or apply financial sanctions.”
‘”We are really frustrated after all these years that no-one wants to understand the real position. We need to build a package of measures with all stakeholders. Clubs, leagues, confederations and FIFA must accept those failures of our industry. We need to guarantee minimum employment standards for all players and clubs in all countries, reform the international regulations and think about the economic future of football.”
“We want FIFA and clubs to reduce the non-payment rule (from 90 days) to one month; the end goal is to ensure players are always paid on time and in full, the fundamental right of every worker. The vast majority earn modest wages, have short careers, very little security and face an uncertain future when their career comes to an end. This is no longer acceptable.”
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