Swaziland
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TIME FOR ESWATINI FOOTBALLERS UNION

Are soccer players not humans after all? 

They do suffer from nervous breakdowns, throwing up before games, and missing penalties on the biggest occasions. It might sound simple to say that soccer players are professionals who are paid hefty salaries. However, it is always easier said than done because pressure gets to everyone. Even the best of the best have had nerves get to them at some point in their careers. The pressure of being a soccer player is huge. The attention from the media, coupled with the money paid by clubs demand greater performances and high expectations from a fan base that is ready to jeer you for any small mistake, which can make life impossible for a player.

As the paragraphs above suggest, today’s topic is an issue that does not receive any attention or mention at all. I’m talking about the lack of a players’ union or association in Eswatini football. Referees and coaches have long organised themselves and formed their own associations or unions. The formation has helped them have a voice within the football echelons of power. Sometime back, certain former players tried to form a union or association, but before it materialised, they vanished into thin air; to this day, nothing has been heard from them.
The union or association allows players to stand together to protect their rights from explosive clubs bosses. It can use its combined strength to force club owners to provide better working conditions.

Assist

Its formation can assist in many ways, including but not limited to influencing and/or demanding club owners or bosses insure them for eventualities like death, injuries, and so on. In the past, we have witnessed players’ careers coming to an untimely end due to curable injuries, but a lack of insurance to cover such injuries has crippled a player. Furthermore, other players lost their lives on the field, and in the end, there was no compensation to their immediate families because there was a lack of such policies to cover the same. More than that, union or association representation is important for players because it will protect current and future generations. Currently, at the highest level of football power, players are unrepresented and have no voice. The only way things may change is for players to organise themselves by forming a players’ union.

Furthermore, such a union or association will assist in the abuse meted out to players by their clubs. It is disappointing to hear a club announce that they have signed a player for a specific amount of money with certain benefits accruing, which normally include signing on fees and salaries. Within a month or so, the parties are at each other’s throats, with the player alleging non-fulfillment of the contractual obligation by the club or employer. These are some of the issues the players’ union will be expected to address. Today, players who are generating huge sums of money for their clubs struggle to pay for basic necessities, not to mention taking care of themselves.

Aware

We are all aware that a contract is mutual; either party can terminate for good reason. It hurts to see a player being frustrated by his employer or club, under the assumption that he has a running contract. While at the same time, the club is fully aware that it has breached the terms and conditions of the said contract. Club bosses in the country owe players thousands, if not millions, of Emalangeni in compensation for signing on fees, unlawful termination of contracts, and unpaid salaries. That is why it is common to hear that players at certain clubs are on strike or refusing to train in protest of unpaid salaries.

In many quarters, the failure of clubs to adhere to labour laws has been attributed, in part, to the armed forces proximity to state resources. They are accused of poaching players by promising employment and, in the process, fail to pay a transfer fee. They further argue that if such a transfer fee were to be fairly paid, such money may be channeled to the team’s operational needs, including player welfare. This is an old issue that has been ongoing for many years. Even as I write this article, the Premier League of Eswatini (PLE) has formed a committee to look into it and make recommendations. Therefore, I’m not about to express my opinion, whether in favour or not.

Furthermore, the said armed forces have been accused by their own players of failing to comply with the terms and conditions of their contractual obligations towards them. These are the issues the union or association, if it existed, would urgently address. The union or association will be expected to assist in engaging the club bosses and, where possible, the Eswatini Football Association (EFA), and leverage the playing field. This is more so because, irrespective of the club’s promise of employment to a player, the club is not absolved of honouring the player’s contract by remunerating him for the services rendered. The union has a commanding voice in protecting players’ interests and welfare, as we have seen in other jurisdictions, with clubs being heavily sanctioned by FIFA and having been approached by the International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPRO).

Lastly, it may be argued that the EFA Players Status Committee is in existence to address these issues. But as the word status suggests, this committee is primarily concerned with the free movement of players from one club to another. Secondly, being in a grouping is advantageous, as it gives the players bargaining power when confronting the EFA and PLE Board of Governors or Executive. The formation of a labour union or association is permissible under the Kingdom of Eswatini laws.