American-born Cyprus international Krystyna Freda has spent most of her career in Europe playing in the Finnish, Scottish and, predominantly, Cypriot leagues. After being involved with the Pancyprian Footballers Association for a number of years, she officially joins FIFPRO as a member of the Global Player Council.
By Krystyna Freda
Growing up in the US, I had dreams of playing for the national team – just like every other little American girl who loves football. However, I quickly understood that this dream would never be my reality: I didn't play for the right clubs, I didn't go to the right universities, and I just wasn’t set up from a young age to reach that level.
I ended up travelling to Europe to pursue my football career and I settled here in Cyprus. Over time I started to think about my international options, as I was eligible for Polish citizenship through my grandparents and I began speaking with the coach of the national team about potentially playing for them.
However, the Cyprus national team heard about this and made the point that I had been living there for four years: I was acclimated to the culture, I played in their league, I spoke the language; I was Cypriot. So, they said I should play for them.
It was such a powerful moment of acceptance for me, to be wanted by a country that I love and to have the opportunity to represent them. I knew that Poland offered more competitive paths on the international stage but Cyprus had my heart. Once I set out to apply for my citizenship, I never looked back.
Being selected as Cyprus captain was something I never expected and I was shocked when I was offered the armband. Not being a natural-born citizen, it wasn’t something that I thought would ever be in my future but I was so honoured that my chosen country had chosen me right back.
I treasure the respect that the coach has shown me, both as a player and a person, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make both him and Cyprus proud. I have so much pride being here, and the fact that it was my choice to play for this country makes me even more committed to do my best – both on and off the pitch.
When I hang up my boots I still want to be involved in the game; I don’t see myself going into coaching, but instead going into management. I figured that having a master’s degree in business would be a great way to prepare myself and learn about the different approaches to the more corporate side of things and, every time I had an assignment, I always found a way to relate it to women’s football.
I wanted to focus my mind on the improvements needed in Cyprus and learn as much as possible about the ways to go about achieving change. Eventually this led to the subject of my thesis paper – Analysis of the Development of Women’s Football in Cyprus: Self-Sustainability and Key Factors Leading to Success.
During my research, I studied FIFA and UEFA reports from the past five years to draw up a comparison between the average stats and the reality for women’s players in Cyprus. I compared hours trained, financial influences, marketing potential and so many other factors to pinpoint which areas Cyprus was most lacking compared to other European countries and where the biggest room for development could be found.
There were two concerns that stood out as needing immediate attention to begin building a better system in Cyprus, and these were 1) basic resources – such as staff, playing conditions, and equipment; and 2) level of investment.
I conducted a survey which revealed only 39 percent of players can rely on football as their main source of income, with nearly the same percentage (38.2 percent) stating that they receive no renumeration whatsoever. The overwhelming majority (71.4 percent) wouldn’t even consider themselves to be professional players, which gives us an uphill battle for developing the league.
Imagine if these women could dedicate their time and attention to the game that they love, the knock-on effect that would have at both club and national level, and the potential it could build in our youth system.
Seeing the statistics and comparing the different situations around the world made me interested to learn more. My research laid out the foundation of what I want to focus on and now, as a member of FIFPRO’s Global Player Council, I am hoping that I can use the information to drive change where it’s needed the most.
There are so many projects that FIFPRO is already working on that I am excited to get involved in. ACL injuries is a particular focus for me right now, especially as I am currently undertaking my own rehabilitation from a tear earlier this year. It’s an all-too-common issue in the women’s game today and, for me, it’s clear that those who suffer from it need a sports psychologist to facilitate their recovery.
The very nature of the injury puts a serious strain on your training and, in some cases, career. Players need someone to help them through this, even if they don’t initially think they do. I count myself lucky to have access to this level of support and I can see first-hand how beneficial it is. But it makes me even more aware of those working in the same league who have to do without. I want to help make this a readily available resource.
Traditionally Cyprus isn’t as advanced as some of our European counterparts, and developmentally we’re a long way off the likes of the Netherlands and France, which makes it even more important to have a voice on the council that represents those nations that are at risk of falling behind.
There have been steps taken towards equal pay which is great, but I don’t think this should be the focus for countries like Cyprus. For me, our efforts should be centred on development; creating an infrastructure that develops young players into the next generation of women’s footballers. Until November 2022 our under-18 championship played nine vs nine because there just aren’t enough players, which then puts them at a disadvantage when they go on to compete in youth championships.
When I first came across the Global Player Council, I felt there wasn’t a lot of representation from smaller countries specifically, which is an area that I felt I could weigh in on. It’s great to see the development in the top countries’ leagues, and the big national teams getting the equal pay that they deserve, but in the house of women’s football, while the roof keeps getting taller, the basement just isn’t rising with it.
I consider myself at the basement and I want to raise the level to close that gap just a little bit, and bring more balance to the house. That’s why I reached out and that’s where I can help create positive change in countries that, up until now, haven’t always had a voice loud enough to be heard.
Equal pay is important, but it’s not just money that draws people into the game. We need development, infrastructure, more training time, marketing. We need to build something stable; create a game that more women want to be part of, that more fans want to cheer on, and that ultimately supports itself financially.
This isn’t just a conversation for the boardroom either, it should also be on the pitch. In my role as captain of the national team, I have more of a voice to reach the other players.
Of course, money is important. But we need to fight for resources, for investment in our players and their performances, and then we’ll have the platform to demand what is rightfully ours.
The new Nations League brings a good opportunity to get ourselves onto an international stage, show who we are, and commit to competition. We’re not the US women’s national team, we’re not France, but we’re taking steps and I’m hoping that that our efforts will start to garner results and recognition.
Women’s football in Cyprus is under-invested, under-developed, and under-appreciated, so making it a marketable business product is not going to be an overnight project.
I think I’ve got quite a few years left in me as a player. I’m looking forward to making the most of them because I know that when I eventually do retire it’s going to be a difficult change, as it is for all of us.
However, my hope is that I can still make a difference in football. I have so much energy, so many ideas, and I need somewhere to focus them. I think the business side of the game is where my experience and education will really come together. Being part of the Global Player Council is an important step on that journey and it’s one that I’m excited to be taking.