BELGRADE (Reuters) - Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic has offered a message of support to the players of a Serbian third-tier club who have gone on hunger strike over unpaid wages.
The strike involves around 25 players, according to Serbian media, from the club FC Borac, which was disbanded owing unpaid wages before its owners bought another local club and renamed it FC Borac 1926.
Serbian Matic, one of the country’s most popular internationals, rallied behind the striking players in a message on the Facebook page of global players’ union FIFPRO.
“I want to say that you are not alone, I am with all of you,” the 31-year-old former Chelsea midfielder said.
The new club FC Borac 1926 could not be contacted for comment.
FIFPRO said Borac was disbanded having run into financial difficulties after dropping down the Serbian league.
The club’s owners, however, then bought another local team FK Provo, and changed its name to FC Borac 1926.
“FC Borac 1926 is now playing in the same stadium as FC Borac, has the same coach and the same persons sitting on the board, but it refuses to pay the former players of FC Borac,” the union said in a statement on Tuesday.
“FIFPRO has long advocated against this unscrupulous practice by which clubs clean up their balance sheet, and avoid paying players and other creditors, through changing the legal entity running the club.”
President of the players union in Serbia, Mirko Poledica, told Serbian media that the players had been on strike since Monday and had spent the night in front of the city hall.
“If the government is not ashamed to treat athletes like this, then we’re not ashamed to go on strike,” he said.
FIFPRO said this was not an isolated case in Serbia despite the FIFA disciplinary code stating that the “sporting successor of a club will be held liable for the debts towards former players of the ‘old’ club”.
Former Borac player, Milos Markovic, who left the club in 2018, said he had only been paid for three months of his 18-month spell at the club.
“I had no choice but to leave the club because I saw no future there. The club’s management deliberately deceived us, having recruited us without any intention of ever paying us,” he told Serbian media.
FIFPRO did not give any details on the condition of the players involved in the hunger strike.
Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Additional reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Toby Davis