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Having passed away just a few days before the FIFPro Division Africa Congress, held in Kinshasa, David Mayebi was at the forefront of everyone’s minds throughout the event.

It was an emotional, grief-stricken occasion, with delegates paying tribute to the Division’s natural leader and one of its founding fathers – the man who represented Africa on the FIFPro Board.

 

Many of those in attendance were unable to hold back their tears, overcome with emotion as they recalled fond memories of their time spent in David’s company – moments that seem to defy time.

They applauded the man they saw as a genuinely untameable lion, echoing the nickname of his beloved national side. It was the kind of ovation normally reserved for actors at the end of a stellar performance. It was as if David was still there, among them, guiding his time-served peers and advising his less experienced colleagues, yet never stealing the limelight. He did so much to support footballers in his native land of Cameroon, and across Africa as a whole, acting as their voice and the vehicle of their hopes and dreams on the FIFPro Board.

At the 10th Congress in Kinshasa, representatives of the 13 Division Africa member countries rightly paid fitting tribute to David Mayebi – to his qualities as a person, to the values he represented, and to his legacy as one of the founders of the Division in 2007.

With Magdy Abdelghani, President of the Egyptian union, unable to attend the event due to a unilateral ban on entering DR Congo, it was left to the Tunisian delegate, Mohsen Sbouai, to pay tribute to David. Towards the end of his speech, he quoted a well-known Arabic proverb:

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“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a manner that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”

He then concluded with the following words:

“The most fitting tribute we can pay is to continue fighting your battles and rising to future challenges in honour of your memory.

“Rest in peace, dear friend, dear brother. Sleep tight, David. We will never give up the fight.”

 

The fight continues ...

It goes without saying that we must continue this fight as a matter of urgency – in Gabon, Zimbabwe and Namibia, for example, where players have been dispossessed of their rights, and across many other African countries, where footballers still do not have the status they deserve despite the professionalisation of the game. Unpaid salaries are also a matter of growing concern. In response, African unions are stepping up their efforts to take transgressors to court – a process made easier by the fact that the courts are now almost systematically ruling against later-payers.

Constant Omari, President of the Congolese federation and member of the CAF and FIFA Executive Committees, was in attendance on the opening day of the Congress and heard the pleas made by Division Africa representatives loud and clear. They repeated their long-standing calls for a standard written contract for all players and the establishment of Dispute Resolution Chambers in those countries where they are most needed, including DRC, to comply with the non-binding FIFA directive issued in 2006.

“You quite rightly call for representative Dispute Resolution Chambers. Yet it is important to recognise that, in many countries, professional footballers do not have formal written contracts with their clubs. We need to start with the basics. I know that you want to see a standard contract introduced, but most of our clubs don’t have the organisational procedures in place to answer your call. Many of them still rely on the generosity and passion of a sole benefactor. In all truthfulness, there are probably just a handful of clubs across Africa who could currently meet this demand – and they already do so.”

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In his address, Stéphane Burchkalter, Secretary-General of Division Africa, stated: “Time and again, we have decried the lack of professionalism among football clubs and governing bodies in Africa. Players are expected to be professional, train hard, win matches, take their job seriously and show respect. But these demands appear to be confined to the pitch. How can clubs expect players to meet these standards yet at the same time fail to show them the respect they deserve, breach their obligations, fail to pay players’ salaries, provide only basic medical care, social protection and education, and leave players high and dry when their short-lived and precarious careers come to an end? Club managers should look to players and their unions as an example. We are well-organised and we work hard each and every day. You only have to look at this 10th Congress to see that in action.”

Anthony Baffoe, Secretary-General of the Ghanaian union and CAF liaison officer, gave a presentation to the Congress on the CAF Clubs Licensing System. It remains to be seen whether this new initiative will solve every problem, especially if nothing is done to force clubs to comply with the rules. If the new system genuinely succeeds in creating a more professional culture in football throughout Africa, then Division Africa is more than willing to play a leading role in what, ultimately, will be a worthwhile endeavour.

“As you are aware, Mr Omari has held talks with CAF President Issa Hayatou to discuss ways to develop a more regular, practical and fruitful relationship between our organisations, under the auspices of the symbolic memorandum of understanding signed back in 2011. We remain committed to working openly and honestly with the African Confederation. We hope to receive positive signals of a return to normal business with CAF in the near future. This will enable us to build on the good work done five years ago in Khartoum. We should not see the agreement we signed as an end in itself, but rather as the start of a long-term, healthy partnership that delivers benefits for footballers, and for African football as a whole.”

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Photo captions

1 - Hérita Ilunga (UFC) and Constant Omari, always side-by-side – the former captained the DR Congo national side while the latter was already FECOFA President.

2 - Constant Omari, member of the CAF and FIFA Executive Committees and FECOFA President, gave a lengthy address to representatives of Division Africa’s 13 member unions.

3 - Domo Landu, Secretary-General of UFC, which organised the excellent 10th Congress.

4 - The Congress marked KEFWA President Innocent Mutyso’s first foray into the world of Division Africa. KEFWA is the Kenyan players' union.