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For Division Africa members, success continues to hinge on close ties with national teams and the backing of star players – a relationship that demands ongoing effort.

It was almost a decade ago that Secretary General Stéphane Burchkalter laid the foundations of FIFPro’s Division Africa. Back then, he had a clear message for colleagues who would go on to set up or expand fledgling national associations in their respective countries.

“Look at what happened with UNFP in France in the early 1960s. It was just three years after the 1958 World Cup, and Eugène N’Jo Léa, Jacques Bertrand and a few others had an inspired idea – to turn to French and global footballing icon Just Fontaine. He threw his weight behind the project, not only becoming the union’s first president, but going so far as to declare that UNFP gave him more pride than his 13 World Cup goals.

The message could not have been clearer: star players – many of whom plied their trade abroad – needed to act as a public voice, be active members and work alongside unions and their players. “We wanted to get these star players on board for several reasons. Firstly, they were familiar with the work that unions did in their adoptive countries. So we hoped that having these famous names on side would trigger a snowball effect among domestic league players. Having celebrity backing also helped us in our dealings with the authorities – something you can’t avoid in Africa – and facilitated our work with the sport’s governing bodies. It also helped us to promote our cause in the media. The most direct route was therefore to contact national teams.”

And that was precisely what happened, everywhere. So successful was this initiative that many international players agreed to take up elected Executive Committee positions in Division Africa’s 13 member unions.

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A show of unity and unwavering support for FUZ in Zimbabwe,
UMFP President Mustapha El Haddaoui, a former Moroccan international, stands among his national team.

“It was this regular, close working relationship that ultimately convinced Didier Drogba – founding member and Vice-President of Association des Footballeurs Ivoiriens (AFI) – to accept the role of Division Africa Honorary President in 2009. It is a position he continues to take extremely seriously today, showing a keen interest in our work and supporting our efforts whenever the opportunity arises.”

Other star names include Kolo Touré (Vice-President of AFI), Stephen Appiah and Michael Kojo Essien (Vice-Presidents of the Professional Footballers Association of Ghana (PFAG)), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Didier Ovono and Mario Lemina (Vice-Presidents of Gabon’s fledgling union, Association Nationale des Footballeurs Professionnels du Gabon (ANFPG)), and Youssouf Mulumbu and Robert Kidiaba (active members of Union des Footballeurs du Congo (UFC) in DRC).

But time moves on, as do careers. And with each new generation comes new challenges.

“That’s why we’re committed to maintaining close ties with national sides, working with well-known players and electing them to Executive Committee roles,” continues Stéphane Burchkalter. “It’s one of the 10 key points of our 2013-2017 position paper. Each and every one of our members has risen to the challenge admirably.”

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Cameroon’s men’s and women’s national squads with Synafoc Vice-President Geremi Njitap,
Anthony Baffoe and Solomon Torson are proud of the Ghanaian national team’s backing.

A process that runs like clockwork

African unions are stepping up their efforts to achieve this ambition, using a tried and tested method to cement the well-established relationship between local players, the national union, the national team and its stars. An official meeting is held at least once a year (and sometimes twice or more often, according to circumstances). But this meeting is just the tip of the iceberg, reflecting more in-depth regular work. In that sense, these occasions are like family reunions.

“This is when members discuss national policy and dealings with official bodies. They also talk about the positive things the union has done to support players, how the organisation is progressing, the current challenges it faces, and its overall objectives. Of course, these meetings also cover the question of FIFPro and the union’s position both continentally and globally. Top players need to have all the information at their fingertips, so they are fully informed in support of their national association’s work. Keeping these stars involved and in the loop is beneficial for everyone. It means they can make their case loud and clear and speak out in the media, thereby helping to protect the rights and interests of players in their country.”

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Botswana national team members sign up,
Silvester Goraseb, former Namibian captain, with the current national squad.

“I was delighted to see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mario Lemina and Didier Ovono making a public plea in support of their colleagues in Gabon, calling for the payment of their wages and recognition of their status,” concludes Stéphane Burchkalter. “It shows that the work we’re doing is paying dividends. We’re getting our message out there. The same thing is happening in every country. Africa is a model to which other FIFPro divisions aspire. And that’s something of which our members should be extremely proud.”

 

For Division Africa members, success continues to hinge on close ties with national teams and the backing of star players – a relationship that demands ongoing effort.

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Gabon’s national team gets ready to stand alongside ANFPG,
Aruna Dindane, founding member and Secretary General of AFI, addresses the Côte d’Ivoire national team.