ZURICH (Reuters) - A fund has been set up to help footballers who are left without wages when their clubs fall into financial difficulties or go out of business, global soccer body FIFA said on Tuesday.
The world players’ union FIFPRO estimates that around 50 clubs in 20 countries — mainly in Eastern Europe and Asia — have shut in the last five years, leaving hundreds of players without pay.
In many cases, FIFPRO says, the clubs have been quickly re-established with only a slight tweak to the name.
FIFA said in a statement on Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with FIFPRO to set aside $16 million (£12.4 million) for the fund up to 2022.
“While these grants will not cover the full amount of salaries owed to players, this fund will provide an important safety net,” it said.
FIFPRO president Philippe Piat said players were “plunged into uncertainty and hardship” when their clubs closed down.
“Many of these clubs have shut to avoid paying outstanding wages, immediately re-forming as so-called new clubs,” he said in the statement, describing the practice as unscrupulous.
Roy Vermeer, the head of FIFPRO’s legal department, told Reuters that the players — often from Africa or South America — struggled to find new clubs and had to make their own way back to their own country.
“The players are left with nothing and they then have to go out and find a new club, which is not easy because in these cases they are usually not top level players, they are always going from contract to contract,” he said.
“In some cases, they will have been to three clubs in a row where they haven’t been paid.”
Vermeer said it was relatively easy for a club to declare itself bankrupt, start afresh in an amateur league and quickly work its way back up to the top flight.
“You have cases where the club goes to an amateur league for one season, they win it comfortably, they are promoted to the second division the next year, and then first league again,” he said.
FIFA said that, since last year, it has clamped down on the practice of new clubs being formed “with the prime aim of avoiding players their overdue salaries.”
“We are also here to reach out to those in need, especially within the football community, and that starts with the players, who are the key figures in our game,” said FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge