Government has vowed to take a tough stand against Super League clubs over their resistance to contribute part of their gate revenue towards initiatives aimed at improving the welfare of players.
Minister of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development Francis Kasaila said in an interview with the Weekend Nation on Tuesday that it is unfortunate that clubs are failing to support initiatives by Football Players Association of Malawi (FPAM) aimed at improving lives of players.
“Players are the key stakeholders of football. Without them there’s no football. But it is disheartening to see that the players suffer destitution when they are sick or when they retire. This is where players welfare initiatives are badly needed,” he said.
Kasaila said if the clubs continue to resist the move, government will push for enactment of a policy where contributions to welfare initiatives will be compulsory.
“In fact, I have already asked Malawi National Council of Sports (MNCS) to see how best we can make the players welfare initiatives workable,” he said.
“Among others we are planning, in that policy, to set a certain percentage it could be one or two percent from the gate collections. This, we think, will see to it that all clubs are contributing.”
The council’s executive secretary George Jana confirmed being told by the minister to push for the formation of the Players’ Welfare Fund which will among others support players and athletes when sick and when they retire.
“It will be more like a pension fund. We are looking at the gate collections as one of the sources of funds. We also want players to be contributing something. Those are just proposals but we shall have a clear picture once we have met with the Ministry to discuss the issue,” he said.
FPAM general secretary Ernest Mangani welcomed the government’s pending intervention saying it will help energise their cause of improving the lives of players.
Almost a year after it was established to look into the welfare of players, FPAM has registered only three footballers out of over 300, a development the body has blamed on sabotage from some stakeholders.
The players body decided to approach players directly after its initial move to approach teams hit a snag as only three out of the 15 top-flight league teams, committed towards the cause.
Established as a limited company under Football Association of Malawi (FAM) players’ welfare policy, FPAM is recognised by Fifa’s Fifpro World Players Union and aims at protecting players from exploitation.
But despite FAM, Super League of Malawi (Sulom), clubs and stadium owners committing to remit a share of gate collections to FPAM, only FAM has adhered to the agreement.
The other stakeholders have refused to hand over the money, saying the gate revenue is already too little to share it another body.
Sulom general secretary (GS) Williams Banda said at the recent annual general meeting (AGM), clubs resolved not to surrender any share of revenue to FPAM.
“It’s a legal issue and our hands are tied, more over we are in economic hardships. Teams are struggling to fulfil fixtures. We don’t have loose money to part away with,” he said.
Mangani said the body has since resorted to turn into a trade union to protect the welfare of players.
He said: “We thought we could deal with this issue like gentlemen. But it seems that is not possible. Sulom has outrightly said they can’t remit our share. Clubs do not even want us. Stadium owners say they need time. In the mean time, our operations are heavily affected because the gate revenue is our main source of revenue.”
Mangani, however, said they have made progress in identifying potential partners, who are willing to sponsor the association.
“But once we do that, we will turn into a trade union and there will be no mercy. We will use labour laws to protect the welfare of players even if it means stopping them from playing for their clubs.
“The move by government is, therefore, commendable as it will help us push the players’ cause” he said.
Apart from the withholding the association’s share of the gate revenue, Super League clubs have also been blocking their players from registering with the association, according to Mangani.
“We have tried to be diplomatic about this issue. Players are interested to join the association, but clubs are preventing them. We cannot meet players without the consent of the employers. But clubs have deliberately frustrated our efforts to meet the players. So far, we have registered only three players,” he said.
One of the registered players said his club is not aware of his decision to join FPAM.
“The [club] has made everything possible to ensure that players do not join FPAM. Since they don’t want to pay part of the gate collection share, they know that if many of us [players] join FPAM, we could force them to bow down to pressure,” he said.
But the clubs, led by the so-called three giants—Nyasa Big Bullets, Be Forward Wanderers and Silver Strikers—have argued that FPAM has no right to claim a share from the gate revenue.
Silver general secretary Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda, speaking on behalf of the clubs, said FAM and Malawi National Council of Sports should fund the FPAM.
He said: “The point clubs are making is that the share that goes to Sports Council and FAM should be used to finance FPAM. Sports Council is already heavily subverted by government. FAM receives subvention from government, CAF [Confederation of African Football] and Fifa. There is no reason why they should scramble from meagre gate revenue. It is a sign of selfness on the part of both Sports Council and FAM.”
FAM president Walter Nyamilandu acknowledged challenges facing FPAM.
“In principle all stakeholders agreed to setting up the players’ welfare body, but there are disagreements on the funding model as Sulom and the clubs are resisting parting away with their share of gate takings,” he said.
The FAM boss was however, confident that a solution would be reached.
“As FAM, we agreed to roll out the welfare fund for all national team players using proceeds from international matches,” he said.