‘No salary, no play’ by Malaysia football team

1517

Suresh Nair

PAY and we play. No pay can mean no play!

Yes, this can be serious business, not only in football, but almost any other sports, especially where professional players depend on the wages for their bread-and-butter.

That’s what Kuantan FA did when they failed to show up for a Premier League match against Malaysian Police on Sunday.

And now they face tough sanctions including being possibly kicked out of the Premier League – the second-tier competition after the Malaysian Super League (MSL).

The Malaysia Football League (MFL) said in a stern statement that they took the no-show seriously and could hand Kuantan FA a heavy sentence.

“The MFL secretariat will forward this development to our board of directors to cancel Kuantan FA’s involvement in the league. We also expect the FA of Malaysia to hand them a similarly heavy sentence,” said the statement.

“Appropriate action must be taken to make sure that not only the team are penalised, but also to those who are involved in the no-show to make sure they are no longer involved in the local scene.”

THREE MONTHS NO WAGES

It is reliably learnt Kuantan FA did not turn up for the match because their players have not been paid their salaries for three months.

However, MFL said they have been fair to the players and officials by paying them a month’s salary with the money from this season’s grant.

“We gave the one month’s salary so that the Kuantan FA management can sort out their problems and continue playing in the league,” said a spokesman.
“MFL also received an assurance that the problem will be solved with a new sponsor coming in. But Kuantan FA failed, and now we need to make a firm stand.”

The match was supposed to be played at the Shah Alam Stadium, but at 9.00pm, the referee blew for Police to receive a walkover, and were awarded a 3-0 win.

A disappointed Kuantan FA head coach Ismail Zakaria said he could do nothing when his players decided not to play on Sunday due to salary issues.

“I tried to tell them to be professional and go ahead with the match,” he said. “But they refused and I understand their frustrations because the bread-and-butter means a lot to them to feed their family and to pay their domestic bills. This salary issue must be resolved by hook or crook.”

CONTRACTS NOT RESPECTED

As a journalist covering the football beat over three decades, I know a large number of football players, from Asean to Asia, Europe and Africa live a precarious existence in which contracts are not respected and their control over their career path is minimal.

Some S-League clubs, in Singapore, too, faced a similar frustrating situation in recent years, and according to one veteran coach, “the no-pay, no-play attitude may appear irresponsible on paper but in reality, it’s the players’ right not to play if their basic wages are not covered”.

Another veteran S-League coach, who declined to be named, said non-payment of salaries usually “tempt the bookies to offer the players bigger money to sell the matches”. He added: “It’s a sad fact of football life where the bookmakers take advantage of the situation to fix the matches, sometimes with preposterous scores, and this sets the competition to a crazy-swing mode.”

A recent survey carried out by the global players’ union, Fifpro, paints a picture of an industry fraught with instability and, in an alarming number of cases, insufficient regulation, with basic employment standards not being met.

Among its findings is 41 per cent of players have experienced delayed salary payments over the last two seasons and the median net monthly income of those surveyed is between US$1,000 and US $2,000 a month.

In the survey, just under 14,000 footballers working in 54 countries across Europe, the Americas and Africa returned questionnaires. It is believed to be the widest survey of professional sports people conducted although the English, Spanish and German leagues were among a number of high-profile bodies not to participate.

Fifpro believe this should not detract from the survey’s effectiveness, pointing out it lays bare the risks inherent in pursuing a football career for those below the elite.

SAD REALITY OF FOOTBALL INDUSTRY

“This is about the reality of our football industry, which is completely different from what most fans are thinking,” said Theo van Seggelen, the secretary general of Fifpro. “It shows that not every football player has three different cars in three different colours.

“We really see the report as a possibility for urgent change, because we cannot accept this situation any longer. It is confirmation of what we already know, but the problems are also even worse than I had thought. I hope clubs realise they have to feel really ashamed.”

Chief among Fifpro’s concerns is the issue of late payment. FIFA rules allow clubs to pay players up to 90 days after the due date; beyond this point a player is permitted to unilaterally breach his contract although the constraints of the transfer window often make this impractical.

The report found 78 per cent of late payments fell within that three-month window; the remainder, which accounted for nearly one in 10 of the players surveyed, were forced to wait longer.

Fifpro attribute this to “jackpot economics”, whereby clubs spend heavily at the start of a season without knowing whether they can honour projected payments, and during a short career in which only five per cent of respondents were aged 33 or above such delays have severe knock-on effects on livelihoods.

“Last season I played 12 months at two clubs, and I was not paid for nine months,” said a senior player from Indonesia, where 60 per cent of players reported delays. “The first club said they did not have any money. In January I got an offer to go to another club. The club I was playing for said I could only go if I gave up on my three months of unpaid wages. I agreed. I wanted to play.

“The second club dissolved after six months and I did not receive any money. My parents paid for my boots, my food and more. They also had to take care of themselves and my twin brother and sister.”

Van Seggelen, who proposes the 90-day period is reduced in the first instance to one month, wants stronger sanctions against countries whose clubs do not pay their players promptly.

“You need to have a licensing system in which it is forbidden. There are examples in western Europe and it is very simple to copy it. Controls are needed and if a federation is not willing to do it in the proper way then you must have the guts to say their national team can no longer play qualifying games, or apply financial sanctions.”

For the moment, the sad reality for professional footballers is: Pay and we play. No pay can mean no play!

Simply because they depend on the weekly or monthly wages for their basic bread-and-butter.