As our name says, FIFPRO is a federation of player unions. Currently, 66 organisations are associated within FIFPRO to support professional footballers worldwide.
Get to know the Football Players Association of Finland Jalkapallon Pelaajayhdistys Ry (JPY), which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month.
The Finnish player union was officially established in 1992, but its origins began a decade earlier. In the 1980s more and more Finnish footballers started playing abroad.
They learned about the activities of player associations in those countries and discussed creating their own organisation. In May 1992 the union was founded and, on 9 July, it was officially registered as an association.
“We decided that the 9th of July would be our official anniversary,” said Executive Director Panu Autio, who took over from Markus Juhola who left the union in March after 28 years.
“When Markus and our lawyer Mika Palmgren started working for us in 1994, they advanced the organisation. Before, the union was very diplomatic, but that changed with their arrival. Palmgren’s legal expertise especially proved its value, providing more legal security for the players, as they officially were recognised as employees.”
One of the union’s main achievements is the creation of the Red Button app. Palmgren and Juhola introduced it in 2013, after Finnish police uncovered several match-fixing cases.
In order to protect players, Juhola and Palmgren created an app to report match-fixing anonymously. This app is now used in various sports worldwide and FIFPRO is distributing it among its membership.
“The Red Button app is a great success story of our player association,” Autio said. “We recognised that match-fixing was one of the biggest threats of football. For us integrity is a very important issue. I am quite proud that the app our union created is now used all over the world.”
Autio is also proud that numerous former union employees or board members have taken on important roles in Finnish football: former union president Marco Casagrande is the General Secretary of the football federation (SPL), while another former president Hannu Tihinen is the SPL’s technical director’s General Secretary.
In addition to that, former board members Katri Mattsson, Heidi Pihlaja and Timo Marjamaa are the SPL’s Vice President, Head of Women’s Football Development, and the CEO of the men’s league, respectively.
“There are others as well,” Autio said. “Having an active role within our players association has prepared them really well for working as a leader in the football industry. And it helps us too. When we contact them, we don’t have to explain to them what a player association is. They have been at our side of the table.”
The current union board consists of five men and five women, all active players. “I’m proud that we strive for equality in our leadership,” Autio said. “In sport and football, board rooms should become more equal.”
Autio’s role within the union changed through the years. Ten years ago he became a board member, seven years ago he started working for the union taking care of player relations and communications, and in March he was named Executive Director.
Autio holds a bachelor’s degree in economic history and a master’s in engineering, is a Finnish futsal legend with 149 caps and 101 goals, and wrote a 300-page book about futsal.
“Being an active player gave me credibility while talking with other players in dressing rooms. I retired a couple of months ago, so it is good to think about how long you can be a player representative after your career.”
The JPY has approximately 1,200 members and most of them have a modest income. The 2021 FIFPRO Shaping Our Future study showed a big difference between the socioeconomic and the football economic index of our football economy.
“Our socioeconomic index is high, our football economic index is low,” said Autio. “According to our country’s legislation you are considered a professional athlete if you have an annual income higher than 12,090 euro. Maybe 350 football players earn that amount in Finland, a very small group. Players can live off that money in some areas, but it’s difficult in bigger cities like Helsinki.
“It is our ambition to create better jobs in our football, but as this profession is not highly paid, many footballers are well-educated or already have a second career. The fact that players in Finland are used to study might be an asset for them in the future.”
The JPY wants to improve the legal position of football players in Finland. During the Covid-19 period players lost their job but, due to their legal status, they did not receive any unemployment compensation related to their football earnings. “Almost all other professions have it, except for athletes. There is specific legislation for professional athletes, which also provides a lower pension coverage compared to other professions.
“So yes, our players have a professional status, however their position is not strong enough. We’ll have to change the legislation together with other athletes’ organisations. That is our most important challenge at this moment.”