FIFPro, the international players’ union, played a high-profile role in helping bring stranded Zahir Belounis back to France from Qatar where he had been trapped in a pay row.
The dilatory manner in resolving the Belounis issue backfired badly on the entire Qatar World Cup effort because it personalised and publicised worldwide – in a way beyond both even The Guardian and the International Trade Union Confederation – the iniquities of the kafala system of tied employment.
It may not be entirely unconnected that FIFPro has itself resolved a number of internal issues and now has the veteran but still-energetic Frenchman Philippe Piat back at the presidential helm.
His uncontested appointment, by FIFPro’s congress in Ljubljana earlier this autumn, may be taken as a positive sign for septuagenarians everywhere in football. Piat is 72, only five years younger than Sepp Blatter who is considering running for another term as president of world federation FIFA.
Born in Casablanca, now Morocco, Piat played for Strasbourg, Monaco and Sochaux while becoming outspoken president of the French players’ union. He has already had one spell as president of FIFPro from 2005 to 2007. He also had a spell as secretary-general, the role in which Dutchman Theo Van Seggelen is now established.
Piat, whose return was seen as a compromise among delegates from the regions, insisted on his return to office, that FIFPro considered all players equal, whether playing in the Champions League or a minor league.
That has certainly proved the case with Belounis of whom few in even French football had heard when he went out to Qatar originally to play under the international radar for the military team in the Gulf state’s second division.
Piat wants tighter restrictions over the January transfer market which he considers an arrangement which enriches agents to the detriment of the game in general.
He also wants national players’ unions to flex their muscles more extensively.
He says: “Without strong national players’ associations, FIFPro would resonate like an empty shell.
“Today FIFPro is a respected institution, that fights a daily battle, everywhere where professional football is being rightfully played, to defend the rights and the interests of the players, whether the player is called Lionel Messi, the extraordinary forward of FC Barcelona, or Loïc Feudjou, the goalkeeper of Coton Sport de Garoua in Cameroon.
“For FIFPro, there is no and there will never be any difference between the most well-known, the stars, and the others ones, the anonymous players, who have the same profession and play football with the same unbreakable spirit.”
Piat is certainly no establishment figure. He is highly critical of the ‘guilt assumption’ strategy imposed on football by the World Anti-Doping Agency and believes the game’s governing bodies are too quick to punish players for match-fixing – “the messengers” – rather than the managers, agents, directors and other figures controlling the illicit business.
He says: “We must make people understand that if there are corrupted individuals, there are also corrupting ones. To sanction only the footballers solves nothing.”
With matchfixing cases erupting somewhere almost every week – El Salvador one week, Austria another, England yet another – his words offer a challenge to the investigative, disciplinary and policing authorities.
Keir Radnedge is one of the foremost observers of international soccer. He has reported at every World Cup since 1966 and is a regular contributor to TV, radio, newspapers and magazines worldwide. He is editor of KeirRadnedge.com and is chairman of the Football Commission of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS). Visit www.KeirRadnedge.com for further information. Follow him on Twitter for more sports industry updates.
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