Mucha is a former goalkeeper, who made 46 appearances for Slovakia, and played for ten clubs in five European countries including Slovan Bratislava, Everton, and Legia Warsaw. At the last club he met Mirko Poledica and Pance Kumbev, who went on to become the presidents of Serbian players’ union Nezavisnost and North Macedonian player union SFM respectively.
“I spoke many times with Mirko and Pance,” Mucha said. “They shared their experiences about playing in Eastern Europe, and we talked about the difficulties players encounter. They gave me a lot of information about the work of FIFPRO player unions, and they helped me realize that it would be good for future players in my country to establish a union.”
In December 2015, Mucha decided to start the Unia Futbalovych Profesionalov. “The idea was, to improve working conditions for players in Slovakia.”
“I had some bad experiences myself in Slovakia. When I was at MSK Zilina, they offered me a contract, but when I refused, they banned me to the reserve team for six months and was only allowed at training sessions. When we started the union, these kind of things were still happening in our country.”
Mucha mobilized and organised the players, with the help of among others current General Secretary Branislav Bolech, and lawyer Peter Lukasek, who was recently appointed by FIFPRO as a judge at the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber.
“One of the biggest problems was that the players were not aware of their rights,” said Mucha. The union noticed many professional footballers having difficulties with illegal contracts, salary reductions, or being banned from the first team.
“They were unhappy about their situation, but didn’t know what to do about it. Now, after five years of UFP activities, the players are more aware of their rights, they know they can contact us and that we can help them.”
Salary payment was a problem, but over the last five years it has improved, Mucha said. ”It is not as big of an issue as it used to be. There is always one club in the first or second division that is not paying its players over a longer period of time. But most of the clubs in the first tier are paying the salaries in time.”
““IF WE ARE INVOLVED IN THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS, THEN WE CAN PREVENT PROBLEMS INSTEAD OF ONLY TRYING TO SOLVE PROBLEMS””
About 300 players have become a member of the UFP and the union is trying to increase this number.
“We noticed that many players only think about joining the union when they get into trouble,” said Mucha. “We are trying to make them understand that we can also help them even if they are not in trouble. For example, we can help them with education, training camps or with benefits from some of our partners.”
Some national team players did join the union, but Mucha is trying to get more internationals involved. “Players still know me from the national team. We could use their support with recruiting players in our country.”
Like various other player unions in Eastern Europe experience, the UFP has problems with getting recognized by the other important parties in their country. “Our relationship with the football association (SFZ) is getting better, but if we really want to improve the working conditions of our players, then the SFZ and the clubs need to accept us as their partner and invite us to sit at the table. We want to be involved in all major decisions concerning the players.”
“If we are involved in the decision-making process, then we can prevent problems instead of only trying to solve problems.”
“Now we are a FIFPRO member, we hope that we will get that recognition.”
Another problem is the current structure of the country’s arbitration system. The UFP was involved with a FIFA-FIFPRO project to set-up a national dispute resolution chamber (NDRC) and the union managed to arrange a number of judges equal to that of the clubs. However, the president and the vice-president of this arbitration body are appointed by the SFZ, which is not according to FIFA regulations. “This is very important, because each senate consists of three persons: the players and the clubs each appoint one judge, and the third person is either the president or vice-president,” said Mucha. “Together with FIFA and FIFPRO, we are trying to get the SFZ to change this structure.”