Belgium's Justine Vanhaevermaet, Croatia's Iva Landeka and Belgium's Elena Dhont pictured in action during a soccer game between Croatia and Belgium's Red Flames, Friday 08 November 2019 in Zapresic, Croatia, the third out of 8 qualification games for the women's Euro 2021 European Championships.

Raising Our Game in Croatia: Interview with Iva Landeka

29 October 2020
Iva Landeka has been captain of the Croatian women’s national team for 12 years. During her career she has won several awards including best athlete of the Croatian diaspora. She has played in Austria, Poland, Sweden and France, where currently plays for Montpellier HSC in the French Division 1 league.

She spoke to FIFPRO about Croatian football – which has a women’s amateur league - and the recent FIFPRO Raising our Game report that suggests growth in the women’s game requires innovation and intervention to establish the basis for a successful and sustainable industry.

What was it like leaving amateur football to pursue a professional career? 
I signed my first professional contract for Unia Raciborz in Poland, but the biggest difference I felt was when I went to FC Rosengård in Sweden. Upon arriving, the club presented me with their ideas, vision, goals and ambitions. In that moment I knew that I had come to a serious club and organisation with a plan. In amateur football I had yet to experience an organised club with a business plan. The feeling that I was a part of something important was very gratifying.

Iva LANDEKA of Montpellier during the Division 1 match between PSG and Montpellier on December 7, 2019 in Paris, France.
Iva Landeka during the Division 1 match between PSG and Montpellier on December 7, 2019 in Paris, France.

Has the amateur league in Croatia progressed during your career?
Croatian women’s football has improved, undisputedly. The number of female players and women’s clubs is increasing. This year the Croatian football federation (CFF) has funneled more money into women’s football than ever before. There are people who work constantly to improve the level of play in Croatia. Nonetheless, I would like to see a clear track of investments as well as a nation-wide development strategy because it has been unstructured and not transparent up until now. 

It happens often that clubs invest as little as they possibly can in their players, or that they have no money to invest. Most Croatian clubs aren’t able to offer contracts, acceptable training or match conditions, wages, compensation, employment promotions, education, social or data protection or rehabilitation. There is also very little to no talk about a collective bargaining agreement. Some clubs have third party investors or sponsors who help increase their budget and that puts them slightly ahead of other clubs, but most players play because they love the game, even if they have no security.

“A lot of players feel like no one appreciates how much we sacrifice; they would enjoy that kind of appreciation more than money”

— by Iva Landeka, captain of the Croatian women’s national team

What are conditions like for the Croatian women’s national team?
The number of national team games have increased and the organized accommodation is excellent. The women’s national teams all receive 100 euros per national team gathering, regardless of its duration. Neither the men’s team nor men’s youth teams have that privilege right now. However, professional staffing is minimal. The presence of a psychologist would be helpful at times, as well as a constant conditioning coach. The use of GPS technology and heart rate monitors during training sessions in the national team would also help regulate and analyze our workload, which is something that is used in professional clubs.

In a meeting with members of the CFF our players were hoping to receive compensation for the money that they lose when they take leave or sick days from work to play for the national team. It was explained to them that as a non-profit organisation the CFF isn’t able to justify the costs of paying players. For now, it doesn’t seem like there is a plan to make greater compensation a possibility, even for those who leave their regular jobs to represent their country on the field. 

Did FIFPRO’s Raising Our Game report reflect your experiences in football?
Yes. In reading the report I had an emotional connection to the reality of both amateur and professional football. The report emphasised certain employment standards which I have experienced in working contracts in Poland, Germany, Sweden and France. The Croatian league has adverse working conditions, exactly how the report describes. Underdevelopment, underinvestment, exclusion, lack of a competitive league and unrealised commercial opportunities are a hard reality.

What can Croatian football learn from other countries?
I would love to see Croatia progress in women’s football like other western countries have. The Croatian federation will not be on that path until basic standards for working conditions are upheld in clubs, including contracts that secure minimum payments and benefits for players as workers. It would be great to have a general sponsor for the Croatian women’s league such as Arkema is in France, or a national team sponsor like PUPA cosmetics is in Italy. Sometimes, it feels as if the lowest standard that has to be met is the most that is given to female football players. A lot of players feel like no one appreciates what they do, how hard we try and how much we sacrifice. For starters, I think that the players would enjoy that kind of appreciation more than money.

Interview by Helenna Hercigonja-Moulton

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