- Former national team player Arunas Klimavicius established PFA Lithuania in 2020
- The player association has an observer status in the FIFPRO community
- Being part of the FIFPRO network has helped PFA Lithuania develop as a player association
In his last season as a professional footballer, Arunas Klimavicius daily drove from his hometown Vilnius to Kaunas, over 100km, where his team Zalgiris was based. "I drove for an hour with four or five team-mates and we always talked about football, the issues we had to deal with, and the lack of a real player union.
"There was a player association in our country, but it didn’t offer much support to players. Then one of my team-mates, Egidijius Vaitkunas, said: why don’t you start an association yourself?"
The suggestion wasn’t strange as Klimavicius often was the player looking after others, helping them with contract issues or other questions. "For all of my career, I’ve been trying to help players in need."
Klimavicius, a former defender who amassed 43 senior international caps with Lithuania, played nine years in Russia and Kazakhstan where he experienced the benefits player unions can offer. "I was the first player in Russia who won a case at CAS. Dinamo Moscow had not paid my bonus and, with the help of the union, I went to CAS. And in Kazakhstan the union helped me when one of my clubs didn’t pay several monthly salaries.
"But the association I was a member of in Lithuania wasn‘t providing me with proper help, hence I considered starting a player association myself. I first asked my team-mates whether they would be interested in becoming a member if I were to start a player association. They put their trust in me and they all became members."
On 28 January 2020, Klimavicius officially established PFA Lietuva (PFA Lithuania), and his "advisor" Vaitkunas, who made 60 appearances for Lithuania, joined him as a board member.
Football is the second-most popular sport in Lithuania after basketball. The top league (A Lyga) has ten teams, and the second division (1 Lyga) has 16 teams. "Our top league is professional, but maybe half of the second league players are professional. The others are youth players or have a job outside of football."
From the moment Klimavicius started he has been trying to increase player understanding of regulations, as he noticed that many of his colleagues were unaware how to act when facing problems with non-payment or other contract issues. "I know players who signed a four-year contract, but were told after one year that they weren‘t good enough and then agreed to terminate their contract without any compensation. A lot of players unfortunately did something similar. Now, players are aware that they can call me and we will help them terminate their contract on the right terms.
"I want to run a project in the 1 Lyga to educate young players about the first steps in professional football, as most of them are about to sign their first contract or have just signed one. I want to take a lawyer with me to explain everything they need to know about regulations and contracts."
A positive side-effect that Klimavicius has noticed since establishing the PFA is that the behaviour of clubs towards players has changed. "I have the impression that they are respecting player contracts more than before. Five years ago we had huge problems and a lot of players didn‘t get their salary. The number of problems with non-payment or respect of contract have decreased, currently we don‘t have real big issues."
PFA Lithuania has around 450 members including futsal and women players. "When I started, I wanted to show that all football players are important to us: men’s players, women’s players, futsal players. That‘s why I also asked futsal international Justinas Zagurskas and women‘s international goalkeeper Greta Lukjancuke to join our board.
"Greta has helped me a lot. I didn’t know much about women’s football, and she informed me about their conditions. That’s why I wanted her to be involved from the beginning."
Observer status at FIFPRO
In 2023, Klimavicius visited FIFPRO meetings such as the Legal Conference, and the Europe and Global General Assemblies. "It helped me build my network, which is a big benefit for all starting unions, that we know how to get help from each other."
Meeting other unions is also inspiring, according to Klimavicius. "I thought I was working very well and was doing everything I could to help players. But during these meetings I learned how many support other unions are giving. I learned that I can always do more and will try to implement other union’s projects in Lithuania."
Another benefit is that the PFA’s relationship with the Lithuanian Football Federation (LFF) has improved. "Getting the support of FIFPRO opened the doors of the LFF more. Recently, I had a meeting with their president and we discussed how both our organisations could jointly improve football. In the summer, we organised the No To Racism campaign. All A-League captains wore special captain's armbands for the matches."
This month, PFA Lithuania will be involved with the LFF’s player award show, that will be held on Monday 29 January. "For the first time, all our players were asked to vote for the best A-League players in Lithuania. It is a sign that we are now respected as the representative of professional footballers in our country."