Kicking for footballers

The build up to the 2010/11 season marked the dawn of an exciting new era for local football.

The Botswana Football Association (BFA) ruled that all footballers in the elite league should be given professional contracts whereas previously they had been regarded as amateurs.

To help smooth this transition, the Footballers Union of Botswana (FUB) was formed.

Created to protect and promote players’ welfare in a country where clubs regularly fail to fulfil contracts and non-payment of salaries is rife, FUB is a world-recognised union affiliated to the International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPro).

The Voice’s Portia Ngwako-Mlilo caught up with FUB Secretary General, Kgosana Masaseng to discuss the union and his role at the organisation.

Q. How was this union formed in Botswana?

A. States Segopolo (ex-Township Rollers and Zebras player) was invited to South Africa by Thulaganyo Gaoshubelwe (current South African Football Players Union President) and they sold him the idea of this union.

When he came back he met with other players like Patrick Zibochwa, Thabo Motang, Strongman Gaamangwe among others and we registered the union.

Prior to that, in the 1990s John Moeti was in charge of the South African Footballers Union and he invited Fredie Ramodise to benchmark but it was not registered.

Q. It’s now seven years since the union was registered. How would you describe the journey so far?

A. It has been a journey full of successes and challenges.

There is a lot of progress and now different stakeholders understand our mandate.

Q. Who is eligible to be a member of FUB?

A. We were primarily established to increase solidarity between football players within Botswana football leagues and other structures.

We just want players with one voice whether it’s in the Premier League or the lower divisions, although priority is given to professional players.

Our membership is in four categories: Premier League, First Division, Retired Players and Women in Football.

When foreign players come to play in Botswana their membership is transferred to FUB.

Q. What are the benefits of being a member as a player?

A. Our members get legal service regarding contractual matters for free.

They only pay for insurance cover with Hollard, their subscription is P50 and they get a cover of up to P95, 000 in case of death or disability.

We have Medical, Legal, Strategic, Social Dialogue, Disciplinary, Women and Retired sub-committees.

These committees provide services to our members depending on their needs as individuals or a team.

When a player wants to go into a business, we provide consultants who assist him/her for free, draw proposals for them and also draw up an investment portfolio.

For players who are not contracted during the off season period, we organise training programmes for them and help them find jobs.

We also have a Financial Literacy programme, where we advise players on how they can save and invest their money for life after football.

Q. What would you say were the union’s greatest achievements to date?

A. We pride ourselves as a union that has lobbied for structural reforms in terms of statutory requirements.

Today the BFA has established a National Dispute Resolution Chamber, which is a judicial body that deals with contractual issues between clubs and players.

We are not going to see players going to industrial court or labour for contractual matters.

Both FIFA and FIFPro agreed that they remove football disputes from courts.

There has been an agreement between these two bodies and FIFA agreed that their members should subscribe to a standard contract – we are happy that the BFA has complied and it is used in the Premier League.

We have also lobbied for a change in the playing rules and regulations on issues that affect players.

We are an associate member of the BFA, so we can push motions and lobby for changes.

We now sit in the very structure that deals with players’ welfare – for us this is a huge success!

Q. During the elective congress, moving the football season to the winter months was discussed. Have you approached the BFA about it?

A. Yes we are working on it.

It is not a decision that can be made overnight; other stakeholders need to be consulted.

Our season needs to be changed because during winter we are on a break and it when it is hot in summer our league resumes.

There were incidents where players collapsed, with some dying on the field and this was partly as a result of the weather conditions.

We have also lobbied for a very strict major in terms of club licencing requirements, specifically on health matters and BFA leadership promised they will put this in place.

Q. What are some of the challenges you face?

A. Our players are not paid. We have a lot of overdue payables and some players have not been paid for over eight months!

Some players take time to report to us for fear of victimization and putting their career at risk as the employer can regard them as a troublemaker and terminate their contract.

Another problem we have is that some teams terminate players’ contracts when the transfer window is closed.

According to our findings from last year’s research, players are not getting medical support yet they are injured on duty.

We met with the new Botswana Premier League (BPL) board Chairman Jagdish Shah and we are happy that he said his priority is insurance and players medical cover.

We are happy that for the first time we are getting someone committing to players’ welfare.

The BPL gets P39 million sponsorship and players get nothing out of that and they only get paid for the service they rendered.

Q. Players in Botswana often struggle financially once their careers end, with many even faced with destitution. How does the union intend to address this?

A. That is part of our mandate. The reason we introduced a Financial Literacy programme was to help our players to plan for life after football.

Those who retired two years ago, we took them for a coaching course in collaboration with BFA so that they can have certain skills within their areas of interest to help them find jobs.

Some we organised an Administration course and we are happy that one of the graduates, Masego Nchingane, was elected in the National Executive of BFA.

We entered into partnership with private tertiary institutions like GUC (Gaborone University College of Law and Professional Studies) and our members got scholarships.

We have a database monitoring our retired players, where they are and what they are doing after football.

We have amended our constitution and included a Retired Members Committee as a fully flashed structure under the care of Benjamin Radimo.

Q. Why does the union prefer intermediaries over players’ agents?

A. What motivated the transition is that in the past a quarter of the transfer value went outside football because of business interest by clubs.

Now even your parents can represent you as your intermediary and every year in March the BFA must publish all the transfers: how much was involved, who was sold to whom, at how much and how much was paid to the agent, club and the player.

During our last congress a resolution was adapted that we must have an in-house intermediary service.

We have recruited a former agent, Simisani Chilisa to coordinate it.

The only problem we have with the new regulation is that the intermediary can represent both the club and the player.

Players tend to lose out because the intermediary will pick the guy who is paying more, so we need to address that financial influence aspect.

Q. As a Secretary General of FUB, what does your job entail?

A. I oversee operations and make sure that the board and congress resolutions are implemented as well as policies at the level of FIFPro.

I have also been appointed into a committee for Africa dealing with Finance Professionalization.

We are trying to see how we can help unions in Africa transform into fully functional entities.

Q. How do you relax?

A. My job is very demanding and I travel a lot.

When I am done with local assignments, I do regional and then continental (assignments) so my schedule is very hectic.

I spend my spare time with my daughter, Mitchel Kagiso.

FUB is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Trade Unions so I am currently campaigning for Deputy Secretary General position for their coming elections at the end of April.

Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?

A. I will be in Francistown attending one of our committee members, Tebogo Masala’s, wedding.

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