| Colo Colo players (from left) Sebastián Gonzalez, Hector Tapia and goalie Eduardo Lobos. The Chilean club was declared bankrupt early this year
Buenos Aires: Tired of broken promises from directors, waiting months to be paid and even living on the breadline, Latin America’s footballers are demanding dignity and taking drastic measures to achieve it.
Across the region, disgruntled players are going on strike and taking their clubs — and even countries — to court in an attempt to receive what they say is theirs.
Argentine football was twice halted last year as players went on strike in protest over unpaid wages and salaries.
Chile’s players followed suit this September, stopping work for three weeks for the same reasons and because they disagreed with the new format for the national championship.
Bolivian clubs have been hit by walkouts by their unhappy squads, who accuse directors of failing to pay them on time.
In Uruguay, members of the World Cup team are threatening to take their federation to court after prizes they were promised for qualifying failed to materialise.
In Argentina, the first players’ union in the Americas — Futbolistas Argentinos Agremiados (FAA) — has been fighting for its members rights for the last 58 years.
This year, the FAA was instrumental in spreading its influence across the region as representatives from countries including Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Chile met in Montevideo to create FAFPRO, the professional footballers’ federation of America.
The players refuse to be labelled a bunch of footballing Che Guevaras trying to bring down the system. All they want, they say, is to be paid on time and treated with respect.
FAA general secretary Jorge Dominguez said that the FAA had always tried to avoid conflict, preferring to resolve disagreements through recognised legal channels and negotiations. Last year, however, the situation became so serious that strike action was unavoidable, Dominguez said.
As the total amount of money owed to the country’s professional footballers hit $50 million, players twice stopped work in protest. After protracted negotiations between the FAA, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) and the country’s labour ministry to find a solution, the players agreed to have the money paid to them over 18 months.
In what appears to be a major victory for the players, Dominguez said the clubs had kept their side of the bargain.
Another major victory for the FAA was in getting the clubs to recognise debts that had technically expired.
There is still a lot to do, however.
South American football has reached a critical state, as a collapse in the sport’s fortunes worldwide has coincided with recession around the region.
Blooming’s challenge for the Bolivian title collapsed last month when their players walked out over a pay dispute and the club decided to send their youth team to La Paz to face championship leaders Bolivar. Several of the players had never been on a plane before and fell ill on the flight. The adventure ended in a 1-10 defeat.
Colo Colo, Chile’s most popular club, filed for bankruptcy at the start of the year and the players at Uruguayan champions Nacional have organised a go-slow because they say they have not been paid for five months.
Peruvian strugglers Juan Aurich say their players cannot even afford bus fares and recently blamed “empty stomachs” for their poor results.
Dominguez, however, refuses to accept recession as an excuse. He blames directors for promising more than they can deliver and says it is time to punish irrational wage offers.
In Argentina, the FAA is attempting to negotiate a system for next season in which clubs could be deducted points or even be relegated if they fell into debt with their players.
“This type of director, this type of club has to be penalised,” he said.
“We, the FAA and AFA, have six months to work on this, to see on what basis we can penalise those who don't want to keep their promises. We want respect. Respect for your neighbour. Respect for what one is signing and what one knows one can pay.