BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Professional footballers have too much to lose if they speak their minds on issues affecting the game, such as being ostracised or ‘forgotten’ if they say the wrong things, according to former Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany.
Players face problems such as racism and an overcrowded fixture list but it is relatively rare to hear them speak out. Most interviews feature generic quotes about the importance of playing for the team and taking matches one-at-a-time.
“There is too much to lose if you speak up especially when you are on your own,” Kompany said at an event organised by global players’ union FIFPRO. “You can put yourself in a very difficult place... to be isolated and then punished.
“You have got a career that lasts 12 to 15 years and it is so hard to find a space and it is so competitive.
“If a club decides they are not going to look at you because you have made certain comments, you can be forgotten about within the space of a transfer window.”
There are several cases of players sanctioned for reacting to racism in the crowd, a notable example being Brazilian forward Taison who was sent off and banned for one game while playing for Shakhtar Donetsk in the Ukrainian league last year.
Spain’s Barcelona defender Gerard Pique was frequently jeered by the national team’s own fans while playing in home matches after criticising the Spanish government’s response to the political conflict with Catalonia.
One of the most notorious cases concerned Italian lower league defender Simone Farina who denounced a match-fixing attempt while playing for Gubbio in 2011. He could not find a new club when he was released the next year and had to retire.
The 33-year-old Kompany, now player-manager at Anderlecht in his native Belgium, is one of the founding members of the Global Players’ Council, which has been set up by the world players’ association FIFPRO to give athletes a collective voice.
“Ultimately, we would want to see everyone speak up on issues they feel are of importance,” said England women’s international Anita Asante, another member of the new council.
“It can only happen with collective action... the more people that join together, then we can install the changes we want to see.”
FIFPRO secretary general Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said the union had a “responsibility to create a culture that allows people to speak out.”
“(Players) are people, they have freedom of speech, they should address issues, they can be agents for change in society,” he added
Baer-Hoffmann said that where players had spoken out, it had made a difference such as in recent incidents of racism where a number of them had been vocal.
Manchester City and England forward Raheem Sterling is regarded as a role model after frequently speaking out against racist abuse, while in Italy Brescia forward Mario Balotelli’s frequent denouncing of racism has turned it into a major issue and prompted clubs and the federation to react.
Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris