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Geremi Nijtap, the former Chelsea and Real Madrid midfielder, was among four new board members to meet at FIFPro on Wednesday.

Geremi, who has led the Cameroon players union since last year, is the new African representative on the global board of the world players union, based near Amsterdam. He will officially join the global board in December along with former AS Roma and Italy midfielder Damiano Tommasi, Swiss lawyer Lucien Valloni and ex-Australia national-team player Francis Awaritefe.

FIFPro spoke to Geremi in Douala, Cameroon recently where he was attending a FIFPro Africa meeting.

There are now many former players on both FIFPro's global and African boards.

We’re sending out exactly the right message to high-profile footballers everywhere, not just here in Africa – to give their time serving their national associations or unions, either while they’re still playing or after they’ve retired from the game. Players at the top of our sport enjoy rewarding careers and win lots of silverware. That opens doors to roles in politics and the media. I believe we should be using our status to help our fellow players, too. Sometimes that means putting yourself in harm’s way – speaking up for what you believe in and making your case loud and clear. But, honestly, it’s worth the risk. I’m all about defending the rights and interests of African footballers. I won’t shy away from danger. 

What do you mean by that? 

Here in Africa, players still don’t have the recognition they deserve – especially when it comes to pay. There are too many countries where players don’t even have contracts, or where contracts are simply ignored. That applies to some FIFPro Africa members, too. It’s simply unacceptable. We can’t tolerate situations where players have their wages paid late or not at all, have no medical cover, or lack any real status or recognition. We’ve already made plenty of progress in many countries, but there’s still a huge amount of work to do.

 

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You mention pay...

(He interrupts.) There’s a long list of players who haven’t been paid for a long time, in some cases more than a year. Yet nobody – CAF and FIFA included – seems bothered by this. Yet the moment a manager’s wages go unpaid, FIFA threatens to exclude the country from international competitions. Look at what happened with Didier Ollé-Nicolle and Benin in August last year. (Editors note: FIFA has threatened to sanction the Benin football association for not complying with a ruling to pay the wages of Ollé-Nicolle, the former national-team coach).

Why should it be any different for players? Why doesn’t FIFA put pressure on federations when member clubs ride roughshod over players’ rights in the same way? Everyone knows what’s happening, but nobody does anything about it. It’s gone on for too long. We have scores of players facing real hardship, unable to meet even their basic needs. How long can our sport’s governing bodies keep turning a blind eye to this kind of thing?

Of course, some players refuse to bow to pressure or ignore threats. If they have the financial means – or the backing of their national associations – they can take their employers to court. But that doesn’t solve the problem – especially when it comes to player-club relations. Everyone with a conscience has a duty to do something. At FIFPro Africa, we’re ready and willing to work with all stakeholders to find a solution. 

Do you think people will listen to you?

I really hope so. We’re having frank, constructive talks with national federations and CAF. In 2011, we signed a memorandum of understanding, heralding the dawn of a new, closer working relationship with the African confederation that can only be good for African football as a whole. It’s still early days, but CAF president Ahmad Ahmad seems willing to let us make our case on behalf of players across the continent.

That’s a huge undertaking...

Yes, the next four years are going to be crucial. I want to repay the trust people have shown in me. In FIFPro Africa, we have some potential new members waiting in the wings – like Gabon, Kenya and Tunisia – and we want to bring them into the fold. We also want to make our 10 existing members stronger and more professional, helping them forge closer ties with players, improve their performance and grow their influence. And we need to keep a close eye on other national unions that could join the division in the future, such as those in Nigeria, Algeria, Zambia, Togo, Senegal, Mozambique and Ethiopia. 

 

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