FIFPRO introduced an 18-person board, the most diverse in the global player union’s 56-year history, during its General Assembly in November 2021.
Across the Board aims to profile all 18 board members. Next: Sweden's Caroline Jonsson, representing Europe.
• Former goalkeeper, played in Sweden and USA
• 80 caps for Sweden, appeared in three Olympic Games
• Played in 2001 EURO and 2003 World Cup finals
• Works for Spelarföreningen & as a clinical psychologist with elite athletes
• FIFPRO board member since 2017
• FIFPRO Women's Football Consultant 2014-2017
How did you get involved with the player union?
Caroline Jonsson: Most athletes think they are in control: when they really push themselves and their team, then they will get rewarded with a better role and more resources. As a player I performed at the absolute highest level, playing in goal for Sweden during the 2003 World Cup final. But I realised that the resources didn't really follow, so it wasn’t enough that we performed well.
That’s when I realised that we needed to change the structure of sport. I got engaged with the player union and my first goal was to create a collective bargaining agreement for women’s players only in Sweden, which we managed to arrange in 2008. And after that, I kept on looking to improve working conditions. I didn’t do it for myself, I did it for future generations, and used my own situation as an example.
You played a huge role in organising women’s football within FIFPRO.
I remember a first meeting in Madrid with FIFPRO staff, there were supposed to be other players, but I was the only one who showed up... When I was later invited for a second meeting at the FIFPRO office, I was sceptical. I was invited by Tijs Tummers, who has been really important for developing women’s football in FIFPRO, to help set-up a women players’ committee. I said: ‘If you want to have a committee then you need to have goals. I am only going to be on that committee if we are going to do this, this and this’. I mentioned a list of ten things. FIFPRO agreed, and that’s how I started working as a consultant for FIFPRO.
Of those first goals, we have secured women's membership in the unions. We have women’s representation in the administration and on the board with decision-making positions. We have maternity leave. We have created conditions for national teams and for national teams in competitions. We have also worked really hard on professionalising the women's game. And we introduced the Women’s World 11: we not only organised the vote, but also managed to convince FIFA to get the women’s players on the same stage as the men’s to receive their award. The World 11 vote was really important for our players, as it got them engaged and united them.
I'm not going to say my work hasn't been important. Of course, I understand I've been the driver, but I also want to emphasise the importance of people buying in, such as FIFPRO staff and people externally. For instance, Stephen McGuinness, the general secretary of PFA Ireland, was one of the first to fight for women’s players. Many organisations had never interacted with women, but when they took that step, they realised that the conditions of women’s players were taking them 30 years back, reminding them of how things were when they started organising men’s players. They went back to their roots, and I think their passion and commitment has now also entered into the women's field. That's why we have made so much progress with organising women’s players.
How I convinced people to buy in? Well, that is the importance of having legends in football actually presenting your message: Megan Rapinoe did it, Abby Wambach, Marta, Nadine Angerer. I didn’t have to say it.
What are the next goals on your list?
I want FIFA, and in Europe’s case UEFA, to create equal opportunities for men’s and women’s footballers, and to distribute equal pay for equal performance. There are so many federations that don’t get enough money to support their youth, grassroots or women’s programs, which is terrible. Another goal is that all our members get women’s representation. That's something that we could be really good at, and it would help our players with preventing all types of discrimination and harassment. One of our biggest goals should be that sport, and football specifically, should be a safe place for kids and our professional players.
Then there is the calendar. We need to work hard and do everything we can to ensure that our players can enjoy a long career. We're in a situation where too many players are playing too many games, and a lot of players are not playing enough. That balance has to be better. In general, player unions should be recognised as the most important stakeholder. Players must have a say in all important issues in football. I’m afraid that we are not there yet.