By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – THE Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has provided an El Dorado for African football players, in recent years, with many – wooed by the wealth of such wealthy individuals like Moise Katumbi – flocking to the country where they have turned the Linafoot into one of the most competitive top-flight leagues on the continent.
Scores of players from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Zambia and Zimbabwe have been lured by the rich pickings in the DRC top-flight league, where they have transformed the top clubs in that country into a formidable force in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) inter-club competitions in recent years.
Lubumbashi giants, TP Mazembe, have won three CAF Champions League titles, in the past seven years, and this year the club powered to glory in the CAF Confederation Cup.
Mazembe are also the only African football team to reach the final of the FIFA Club World.
The Mazembe success has been powered by the club’s financial muscle, which has seen it recruit some of the best Congolese players and also sign a number of expatriates from across the continent with Zambian skipper, Rainford Kalaba, playing a very influential part in that battle for glory.
His countrymen, Nathan Sinkala, Given Singuluma and Kabaso Nchongo are also on the books of TP Mazembe while the club has also recruited heavily from across the continent with Ghanaians, Ivorians and players from Niger and Zimbabwe also part of the club’s squad.
Mazembe’s big domestic rivals, AS Vita, who are based in the capital Kinshasa, were runners-up in the CAF Champions League in 2014 and many neutrals felt they were strong enough to win the tournament this year had they not been disqualified, after eliminating eventual champions Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa, in the second round, for having used an ineligible player in the first round.
AS Vita have players from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Rwanda, Cameroon and Zimbabwe on their books.
But, although this has been a golden period for Congolese clubs on the continent, a comprehensive report released by the global world players union, FIFPro, has described the DRC as being the worst country when it comes to violence and threats to footballers from supporters on match days.
The report, which followed a comprehensive study that involved thousands of footballers, was compiled in conjunction with researchers from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.
“The objective of the FIFPro Global Professional Football Players Survey is to present the most comprehensive and far-reaching study to date of the labour conditions and experiences of professional footballers throughout the world,” FIFPro said in their report.
“This report analyses and provides academic commentary from researchers at the University of Manchester on nearly 14,000 questionnaires completed by professional (and in some cases semi-professional) footballers in 54 different nations, in Africa, the Americas, and Europe.
“The FIFPro Global Survey provides a snapshot of a professional footballer’s life in 2016, covering issues such as age, education and salary, to the topics of contract renewal and transfers. It also gathers data about longer-term experiences of footballers throughout their careers on issues such as abuse, violence, and match-fixing.
“The Global Survey is designed to assist FIFPro, national player unions, and also clubs, leagues, federations, event organisers, fans, and public authorities to understand some of the challenges and problems facing professional footballers and, where appropriate, to develop strategies to manage or counteract problems.
“Published for the first time, the 2016 FIFPro Global Employment Report is the most comprehensive and far-reaching survey of its kind, analysing the labour conditions of professional players in the world’s most popular team sport.
“Football is deeply rooted in our societies and generates passion, commitment and a strong sense of community. As a consequence, it has developed into a global economy and the employment of professional players is at the heart of the game. The global employment market for professional footballers is as fragmented as the competitiveness and wealth in football overall. The borders of this segmented world map can neither be grouped by geography nor by league – and striking differences sometimes exist even within a single club.”
The report noted that there was a huge gap between those who earned the mega salaries, in the top professional leagues of Europe, and those plying their trade elsewhere around the world, especially in Africa, Asia and some parts of Eastern Europe.
“The top-tier is formed by a global elite of players with superior talent and skill. They enjoy very good working conditions at the highest level and a very strong market position,” the report noted.
“These footballers play predominantly in the Big Five European leagues (Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1). Other wealthy clubs in growing markets around the world offer selected players comparable conditions.
“The second tier includes a large number of professional footballers playing for clubs offering more moderate, but decent employment conditions in well-regulated and relatively sustainably financed markets such as Scandinavia, Australia, the United States, and top clubs in South America, as well as in the second divisions and competitions of major football markets.
“The third tier represents the majority of players, who are under constant pressure to extend their careers in professional football and face precarious employment conditions, including a large degree of personal and contractual abuse.
“As this report shows, these conditions can be found in large parts of Eastern Europe, Africa and some countries in South and Latin America.”
The report said the DRC provided the worst conditions for players, in terms of both violence and threats of violence from supporters on match days, in a scathing attack on the game in that country.
“The stadium atmosphere, public attention and cultural importance of football are among the factors which make playing professional football a very special job,” FIFPro said in their report.
“But the positive sides of the game also come at a price – the pressure of performing your work every week in a very stressful, often hostile and sometimes violent environment is often overlooked. This study surveyed different forms of abuse and their perpetrators, suggesting widespread problems among players themselves, between fans and players, as well as abuse from management towards players.
“Stories of physical and psychological abuse of players are common place, yet this survey has for the first time gathered global data on the extent to which this takes place. Comparison to similar surveys in other industries shows that footballers are five times more likely to experience violence at work.
“Almost one in ten players reported personally having been a victim of violence, experiences of violence and discrimination. Almost 10 percent of players experienced physical violence, almost 16 percent have received threats of violence, 15 percent were victims of bullying or harassment, 7.5 percent faced discrimination based on ethnicity sexuality or religious beliefs.” Scotland was in second place in the latter category, Brazil in fifth place and Italy in sixth.
The Italians were ranked as the worst country, for threats of violence on non-match days, with 24 percent of players saying they had been menaced by fans.