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: Cameroon's Geremie Njitap, representing Africa.
• Former midfielder who made 118 Cameroon appearances
• Won Olympic Gold (2000), Africa Cup of Nations (2000 & 2002)
• Represented likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea, Newcastle United and Genclerbirligi at club level
• Won two Champions League titles at Real Madrid (2000 & 2002)
• FIFPRO Africa President since 2017
• FIFPRO Board Member since November 2017
• FIFPRO Vice President since November 2021
How did you get involved with the player union?
Geremie Njitap: When I was still a national team player I met David Mayebi, the former president of Synafoc and a former FIFPRO Global Board Member. He would often visit the national team and talk with us about the importance of being a member of the union. He convinced me. I still have my first membership card. David and I were very close and when I hung up my boots he started bringing me to meetings. My first FIFPRO General Assembly was in 2012, in Washington DC. I found it very interesting, and I started to love FIFPRO. I learned what all these people were doing for the good of footballers, something I could not really see when I was still an active player. David explained how they fight for players to recover money that they are owed, those kind of things. It motivated me, and David saw that. He saw me as his successor.
Unfortunately David passed away in 2016. I was voted as his successor at Synafoc, and on the boards of FIFPRO Africa and FIFPRO’s global board as well. In the meantime, I prepared myself to become a manager, following studies such as UEFA’s MIP. That helped me make the transition from being a player on the field to a manager in administration. I want to give something back to young players in Africa – so many want to become a professional footballer, but they face a lot of obstacles. Your chances of making it are very slim and you also need some luck. I want to help them become the best professional player they can be. That is my daily motivation.
One of the main achievements is that Synafoc is much more visible now in Cameroon. Everybody in Cameroon recognises me and knows I am the union’s representative. We still need to improve a lot, but things are looking good. The current president of the football federation is Samuel Eto’o, my former Cameroon team-mate. Our relationship is very, very good and together we can build a strong foundation. When I call or write to him, then he will straightaway take the case seriously and help. Being a former player himself, he cannot accept that a footballer does not receive his salary. It is a big opportunity for the union, and it is my goal to sign a collective bargaining agreement. We have begun writing a proposal.
What do you aim to achieve with FIFPRO Africa?
In Africa, countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and South Africa are the most professional. But in other countries, we face similar problems: non-payment, players being separated from their squad, breach of contract … If we want to solve these problems, we also need the help of CAF, Africa’s football confederation. We must have a good relationship with them, and I think we have. Last year we signed a Memorandum of Understanding and several union representatives joined CAF committees. We also need to look at ourselves. CAF has 54 member associations, FIFPRO Africa only has 11 unions. We need to increase our membership and we are working on that, but quality is more important than quantity. We only want strong unions, and we only collaborate with people we trust.
A good relationship with CAF makes our work easier. During the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco in July, I was part of a FIFPRO delegation that visited five national teams: Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Senegal and Zambia. CAF gave us the permission to meet them. These meetings with national team players are so important because they can help us spread our message in their country or their league. We informed players about our work, what we can do for them. Of course, we also listened to them, because with their information we can go to CAF or FIFA and ask for improvements.
We think the girls appreciated these meetings, as some of the 30-minute meetings lasted longer than an hour. We will stay in touch with them. We want to do similar visits to men’s national teams when they play their Africa Cup of Nations. In Africa, when national teams get to the tournament, some players go on strike for example because they didn't receive their salary or bonuses. It is a shame. We have to avoid that these things happen. When a player gets to a tournament, they need to be focused, because it is a big opportunity for them in their life.
What gets you excited about your work?
What excites me as the Vice President of FIFPRO’s global board, is seeing improvements to working conditions for players in smaller countries. Football is not only played in Europe, but around the world. And in my various roles I will keep trying to get countries to sign collective bargaining agreements, because that is the biggest tool we can have as player unions. We still have a long way to go. But I came into this job, because I wanted to help the player who has not received their salary for two or three months. When you then manage to help them, and they say: ‘Thank you so much, because I really needed that money’, then that just makes my day.