FIFPro: Rough lives of thousands of footballers 'tempts match fixing'

The son of Helsingborgs coach Henrik Larsson was attacked by masked fans after the club's relegation.

Story highlights

  • Players' union highlights payment problems
  • Survey: 41% paid late in past two years
  • 7% of players approached for match fixing
  • Complaints of death threats, violence on pitch

London (CNN)While past and present soccer stars like David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have amassed untold riches on and off the pitch, it turns out the average footballer's lifestyle is not all glitz and glamor.

According to a survey carried out on behalf of global footballers' trade union FIFPro, over 40% of professional soccer players have experienced late payments in the past two seasons, with 60% earning just $2,000 or less per month.
More alarmingly, match fixers approached about 7% of the nearly 14,000 respondents during their careers, according to those who responded.
    Those statistics, along with a general lack of respect for players surveyed, show that working conditions in the sport must evolve, according to FIFPro.
    In particular, a lax FIFA rule which allows teams to go unpunished for paying players up to three months late needs to change, says the union. FIFA did not immediately respond to CNN's request to comment on late payments.
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    "It shows, to be honest, that in the football industry there is an unbelievable lack of respect from clubs and their governing bodies to take this business seriously," FIFPro Secretary-General Theo van Seggelen told CNN.
    "What do you do if you're 27 years old, and you have two kids and are married, but have not been paid?"
    For Croatian player Mario Cizmek -- a 16-year veteran who said he had not paid by FC Croatia Sesvete for 14 months -- the temptation to pay back his accumulated debts was too large.
    In 2011 he was sentenced to 10 months in prison for fixing seven matches, and was banned for life by the Croatian National Association.
    "It is hard to describe how I felt when I intentionally missed the ball for the first time, as if I was spitting on my entire career," he told FIFPro in 2012.
    "But when you are drowning, you try and clutch at straws at the end. You think it will only be that one game."
    FC Croatia Sesvete did not respond to CNN's request for comment on the case.
    However, European football's governing body UEFA emphasized that since introducing its Financial Fair Play & Club Licensing regulations in 2011, overdue payments from European clubs have declined over 90%.

    Fundamental rights

    Chelsea manager Antonio Conte served a four-month ban in 2012  for failing to report match-fixing while at Siena.
    FIFPro is calling for FIFA to reduce its current three-month rule to 30 days, and eventually penalize teams for missing even one day of payment.
    "The end game is to ensure that all players are always paid on time and in full, a fundamental right of every worker" the organization said in a statement.
    The 23-question survey was conducted by Britain's Manchester University, which analyzed results from over 13,800 professionals in 54 countries. A total of 87 leagues in Europe, the Americas and Africa were included. However, only 21% of FIFPRO players responded.
    Germany, Spain and England were excluded, however, as were countries without unionization, such as China.
    The plague of not honoring players' rights is most common in Eastern Europe, according to van Seggelen, though most of the world outside of North America and Western Europe is also complicit.
    Players from Georgia reported the highest number of approaches to fix matches at over 34%. The Democratic Republic of Congo was next at over 31% of players who responded.
    The report also found that 15% of respondents said they had experienced bullying or harassment by their clubs, fans or fellow professionals.
    Foreign players were the most likely to experience abuse, according to the survey.

    'Everywhere in the world there is insecurity'

    Last week in Sweden, masked fans of soccer club Helsingborgs raided the pitch and attacked striker Jordan Larsson after defeat to Halmstads relegated the seven-time national champion from the top tier.
    Hooligans also tried to confront his father, Henrik Larsson, who coached the team. The former Barcelona striker resigned shortly afterward.
    Another Swedish player complained about physical abuse and death threats that consistently went unchallenged.
    "As a goalkeeper, I'm always close to the fans," he said anonymously in the survey. "I've had coins and lighters whipped at my head. Fans screaming and yelling abuse is so common."
    The same player told of receiving death threats on Facebook. "Sad to say it's part of the game. It wouldn't be tolerated in other jobs," he said.
    Italian footballer Adriano Russo, now with second tier team Frosinone, says playing for lower division teams on the verge of collapse is nerve-racking.
    "I've played for clubs that ended up bankrupt," he said in the survey. "In a professional league like (third division) Serie C there's always the possibility you could lose money or find yourself in a difficult situation.
    "One of the biggest concerns for players is to receive what they're owed in their contracts."
    David Low, a Singaporean who has played in nearly a dozen countries including Mongolia and Cameroon, stressed that job security is a common worry for footballers.
    "Everywhere in the world there is insecurity," he said. "In Cameroon I was prepared not to get paid. I went there for the experience, for my CV. They paid me a bit here and there, like an allowance."
    "Ninety-nine percent of players in Cameroon don't get paid. Perhaps they get paid one month in six," he estimated.
    Van Seggelen said it was up to FIFA to make sure rogue football associations -- especially those outside of Europe and North America -- are pressured into cleaning up their acts.
    "I don't think the other confederations will cooperate, and that's the reason why FIFA has to oblige them to do it."