During the FIFPRO general assembly on 21-24 November in South Africa, FIFPRO will present the 2023 Union Impact Award to the member union that has launched the best initiative to improve the wellbeing of professional footballers in their country.
Six unions were shortlisted and recently a special committee selected three finalists. During the general assembly, FIFPRO members will vote on which of the three finalists will win the award.
One of the six shortlisted unions is Portugal’s Sindicato dos Jogadores Profissionais de Futebol (SJPF), whose referee course is giving players the chance to take on a new career challenge.
Portuguese player union SJPF signed a memorandum of understanding with the Portuguese Football Federation’s (FPF) referees’ committee, which has paved a special route for professional footballers wanting to become a referee.
The FPF were looking for ways to increase the number of match officials due to the lack of referees coming through at regional and youth level. During the union’s annual training camp for out-of-contract players, the SJPF and the FPF organised a pilot of their joint project.
The main goal is to offer players an extra education programme that could help them transition to a new career in refereeing. Some players might be able to sign a contract with a new club after attending the training camp, but others might face unemployment; becoming a referee is therefore an interesting option for some players to remain in the game.
The project also promotes respect and understanding for referees. As SJPF President Joaquim Evangelista explains: "We are bringing referees and players closer together. There are special meetings where players and referees can talk privately and we have arranged that player ambassadors will accompany referees when they organise courses. We also wanted to help the industry – we know it is difficult to make young people excited about becoming a referee.”
Explaining the benefits of the project, Evangelista said: “When players don’t have a plan B for the moment their playing career ends, then it is up to us to provide them with options. This is one of the options, especially if they want to stay in football. The players bring their experience with how the game needs to be played, and the remuneration for referees is good.”
Enabling players to become referees is another initiative that has fortified the relationship between the Portuguese union and the federation. It also illustrates how the union and its partners are cooperating to support the wellbeing of players during and after their playing careers.
Evangelista said: “Referees, players, and coaches as well, all speak the same language when they are talking about football. We have a lot of common problems, and from a political perspective it is good to work closer together.”
During a summer training camp, 14 players took part in this special training course. The SJPF and the referees’ committee have agreed that they will organise at least one other referee course this season for players who could not take part in the previous camp.