Former national team player Kamoliddin Murzoev, the President of the union, spoke with FIFPRO about the accomplishments and major challenges of the organisation.
Murzoev is one of three founders of the UPFU, along with ex-player Davron Shaimardanov and Ravshan Nikimbaev, the union’s General Secretary and International Relations Manager, respectively.
They have known each other for a long time and during one of their many conversations they discussed some of the problems professional footballers in their country faced. “Then we realised that we should establish a union to help players,” Murzoev said.
Top of their priority list was non-payment, as numerous player contracts were not respected. Murzoev: “When players were at the end of their contract, then some clubs would withhold payment until they signed a new contract with that club. And if these players decided not to sign, then they would not receive their outstanding salaries.”
Murzoev, Nikimbayev and Shaymardanov were enthused after a visit by FIFPRO Asia chairman Takuya Yamazaki and a visit to the 2018 FIFPRO Asia General Assembly in South Korea. “That completely changed our mindset. FIFPRO thought about things we never thought of before. We started looking differently at things. We realised that we could change a lot of things we took for granted until then.”
In short: they got a better understanding of player rights. “For example, we understood that it is not normal to play a match in Saudi Arabia in June at the hottest moment of the day, or that there is an emergency protocol that allows a doctor to enter the pitch even when the match is not halted, and that players don’t have to pay for their medical treatment by the medical staff. These kinds of things.”
The first four years have been fruitful for the UPFU, which has 500 members, including 400 men and 100 women. “The players know us. Davron and I are former players, and we are well known by players and club managers in our country, and I can say that all the players have a phone number of Davron, Ravshan or me.
The union has signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation (MOU) with the league, and is also working on several agreements with the football association. One of the agreements the UPFU already signed with the FA is about the implementation of the Red Button app, which allows players to report match-fixing anonymously.
“Match-fixing was a problem in our country. Before we introduced the app early this year, we already had several players talking with us about incidents of match-fixing. The football association understood how the Red Button app could help in a country 1,000 kilometres wide and a population of 30 million with only two integrity officers. We think the Red Button app can help reduce the number of fixed matches.”
From a legal perspective, the UPFU has made some great strides. There is a minimum standard player contract, they had a say in the developing of the country’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, and there is an arbitration system.
“We have initiated more than fifty cases, and we have never lost one, including five successful cases in the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber. This reputation helped us with getting recognised, as the players, clubs and league noticed that we were right all the time. It accelerated the decision of the league to sign an MOU with us and it helped improve relations with the clubs. Even a club against which we once presented 15 cases is now very friendly with us.”
With the football association, the UPFU is now trying to establish a National Dispute Resolution Chamber. Other objectives on the to-do list of the union include arranging a collective bargaining agreement for the men’s national team and increasing their membership.
Murzoev emphasised that the union wants to raise the level of professionalism of Uzbek football. “Together with FIFPRO we launched a project, ‘Personal health and safety of football players’, that is very important for all stakeholders. Based on the results of this survey, we identified a number of key problems, for example that players lack awareness of doping regulations, which we are trying to solve in cooperation with the FA, the League and the Clubs. Until now our conversations have been fruitful.”
“We also need to improve the working conditions of women players. We want to start with the national team players, by arranging an allowance for every time they are called up to represent our country. At this moment they get nothing.”
Last but not least, the UPFU is proud to have introduced the World 11 vote in their country. “The players have always liked it, and now we can say that the voice of the players in Uzbekistan now means something in the world. "