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    Low wages, threats, late payment – the life of football’s non-elite players

    A large number of football players around the world live a precarious existence in which contracts are not respected and their control over their career path is minimal, according to a survey carried out by the global players’ union, Fifpro.

    The Fifpro Global Employment Report paints a picture of an industry fraught with instability and, in an alarming number of cases, insufficient regulation, with basic employment standards not being met. Among its findings is 41% of players have experienced delayed salary payments over the last two seasons and the median net monthly income of those surveyed is between $1,000 (£804) and $2,000 a month.
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    Just under 14,000 footballers working in 54 countries across Europe, the Americas and Africa returned questionnaires. It is believed to be the widest survey of professional sports people conducted although the English, Spanish and German leagues were among a number of high-profile bodies not to participate. Fifpro believe this should not detract from the survey’s effectiveness, pointing out it lays bare the risks inherent in pursuing a football career for those below the elite.

    “This is about the reality of our football industry, which is completely different from what most fans are thinking,” said Theo van Seggelen, the secretary general of Fifpro.

    “It shows that not every football player has three different cars in three different colours. We really see the report as a possibility for urgent change, because we cannot accept this situation any longer. It is confirmation of what we already know, but the problems are also even worse than I had thought. I hope clubs realise they have to feel really ashamed.”

    Chief among Fifpro’s concerns is the issue of late payment. Fifa rules allow clubs to pay players up to 90 days after the due date; beyond this point a player is permitted to unilaterally breach his contract although the constraints of the transfer window often make this impractical. The report found 78% of late payments fell within that three-month window; the remainder, which accounted for nearly one in 10 of the players surveyed, were forced to wait longer. Fifpro attribute this to “jackpot economics”, whereby clubs spend heavily at the start of a season without knowing whether they can honour projected payments, and during a short career in which only 5% of respondents were aged 33 or above such delays have severe knock-on effects on livelihoods.
    The percentage of players to have experienced payment delays in each participating country.
    The percentage of players to have experienced payment delays in each participating country. Photograph: Courtesy of Fifpro/Handout

    “Last season I played 12 months at two clubs, and I was not paid for nine months,” said an anonymous player from Romania, where 74% of players reported delays. “The first club said they did not have any money. In January I got an offer to go to another club. The club I was playing for said I could only go if I gave up on my three months of unpaid wages. I agreed. I wanted to play.

    “The second club dissolved after six months and I did not receive any money. My parents paid for my boots, my food and more. They also had to take care of themselves and my twin brother and sister.”

    Van Seggelen, who proposes the 90-day period is reduced in the first instance to one month, wants stronger sanctions against countries whose clubs do not pay their players promptly. “You need to have a licensing system in which it is forbidden. There are examples in western Europe and it is very simple to copy it. 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.”

    Fifpro uncovered numerous instances of players being victims of financial overspeculation by clubs. Over 6% of players had been forced to train alone by a club – a phenomenon twice as likely to be experienced by foreigners and effectively a form of solitary confinement – and 22% were aware of the practice. In the vast majority of these cases the clubs were seeking to remove a player from their wage bill or coerce them into signing a less favourable contract by freezing them out of contact with their team-mates and the chance to train conventionally.
    Pie chart showing the proportion of players made to train alone – and the reasons for this treatment.
    Pie chart showing the proportion of players made to train alone – and the reasons for this treatment. Photograph: Courtesy of Fifpro/Handout

    Freedom of movement is an accompanying issue and 29% of respondents reported they had been forced to join a club against their will despite holding an ongoing contract, usually due to pressure by agents or other third parties. Of that figure 47% had also experienced non-payment. In Serbia 82% of players stated that they had been subjected to such a move.

    Fifpro hopes such data will bolster the legal case against the transfer market that it filed to the European Commission last September. Van Seggelen is due to deliver the report to the European Commission on Tuesday and will highlight what he believes is the restrictive influence of transfer fees on football’s labour market: the survey found 29% of those who transferred for a fee were influenced to sign for a club that was not of their choosing.

    Among a number of other issues highlighted by the survey, to which 13,876 individuals responded, was that 10% of players had been threatened by fans, club management or fellow professionals during their career.

    This included a notably high figure from Scotland, where 34% reported threats of violence on a match day from supporters – second only to DR Congo – while players were three times more likely than the global average to have been threatened by another player. Sectarian tensions are considered likely to be behind these statistics.
    This graphic shows the countries – including Scotland – in which the highest percentages of players have been threatened with violence.
    This graphic shows the countries – including Scotland – in which the highest percentages of players have been threatened with violence. Photograph: Courtesy of Fifpro/Handout

    The PFA, while supportive of the report and holding considerable influence within Fifpro, opted out owing to the strength of the mechanisms it believes it already operates for England-based players. It has longstanding collective bargaining agreements in place to improve and negotiate their conditions and rights; its deputy chief executive, Bobby Barnes, is president of the global body’s Europe division but felt the focus of the survey was less relevant to its members.

    “We felt taking part would dilute the statistics,” Barnes told the Guardian. “Our case is as good as there is and we’d far rather highlight situations where things are going wrong.

    “Our position is that overdue payables are the major issue that faces footballers globally and we completely support any moves aimed at making sure clubs pay players and respect their contracts.”

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