Fake News is not Good News – Russia and FIFPro

World_Russia_Russian_flag_021050_-1.jpg

A few days after FIFPro, the international union for professional football players, unveiled the “Biggest ever football survey”, I met with the President and CEO of Russia’s legal Footballers Union (ARFPU), Alexander Zotov. It was on the sidelines of a Sponsorship in Sports Forum and despite the bling and jazz of stars and big hitters in the Hilton, the most interesting story came from Roman Shirokov and Zotov.

We will recall the issues surrounding the 2 footballers unions in Russia. One established in 2005 on a base of forged signatures and run as an unashamed agency, the other set up in 2010 and recognised by clubs, the Union and most importantly – the players! The 2005 version, the Union of Footballers, Trainers and agents (PSFT) has been effectively banished by the Russian Football Union (RFU) and the football family. The International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPro) apparently relied on this rogue operation to yet again provide information on the state of Russian football. And what a state it revealed!

According to FIFPro 242 professional players in Russia answered the call – yet from more than 500 contacted (from Premier League pace-setters Spartak to FNL battlers Fakel to Division 2 East Zenit Irkutsk) none took part, nor did they know of anyone who took part. That is approximately 1/5 of Russian professional footballers who didn’t take part and who are unaware of anyone else who did. Is this Fake News or a flat out lie from FIFPro and the PSFT? We asked both bodies. They didn’t answer – emails, Facebook messages, phonecalls – smoke signals and jungle drums were considered.

Of the ‘respondents’ only 25% had experienced late payment of salaries in the previous 2 seasons. FIFPro accepted and published this less than truthful fact. So what is the truth? I presented Shirokov and Zotov with the facts as reported by FIFPro. Shaking his head and glancing at the nicely presented results, Alexander began:

It’s hard to comment on the Russian statistics as I haven’t heard from any professional players (that they completed it)…..and they’re not aware that there was a survey done.

This is a member of the RFU Executive Committee, who communicates with players, officials and administrators from clubs across Russia on a daily basis. He put it succinctly –

The numbers under Russia are false.

It is impossible for the global governing body for professional footballers to help Russia so long as they remain mired in fantasy and deny the truth. Like a Potemkhin village, what is presented by the PSFT is designed to please the onlooker and cover up the truth. Among Roman’s goals, as President of the ARFPU, is to improve the system of contracts and relationships between players and clubs – something apparently that is not needed according to FIFPro. They report that no players are forced to train alone during their career and none are pressured by their clubs to renew contracts.

From stories that make it into the media alone, we know this is not true. And no player is without a copy of their contract – which is patently untrue in Russia with black-white payments common in all professions. So what is it with Russia and FIFPro? How can a global governing body, in this time of faux outrage, continue to deal with such shady characters as Nikolai Grammatikov whose professional and personal life were the subject of a deep investigation in earlier this year. FIFPro claimed to be investigating the man and his PSFT, yet our source in FIFPro told us that:

For FIFPro to admit such a failure, for 10 years, and the money spent on him and his union. It’s impossible. They won’t go public with it and he (Grammatikov) won’t step down. He’s been asked to do so, in Russia too I believe, but he’s making so much money from it why should he.

Apart from the money FIFPro has lavished on the PSFT agency, a big stumbling block for Russia is the one country-one union rule FIFPro operate under. And while this is immediately discriminatory and against freedom of gathering and rights, it does have a parallel with how FIFA operates. There is only 1 Federation/Union/Association per country. You know who you are dealing with and it makes business easier. And sport is business. And in business information is gold so the secrecy surrounding FIFPro’s dithering over the PSFT is par for the course. Regardless, the ARFPU pushes on.

“Education is very important…not all want to be trainers after their career,” Shirokov tells and the ARFPU are helping footballers transition back to normality through an innovative career development education program in the Plekhanov University. He explained that he knows what it is like to build and rebuild a career, so for any young aspiring pro or for ones facing an uncertain future, the President of the ARFPU is an ideal role model.

“There are no barriers holding us back, we will continue to work and develop,” Roman stated.

And he is correct. The ARFPU continue to build membership. Work with players and clubs. Gain valuable media recognition and respect in society. They bring to light the troubles suffered by players from Tomsk to Moscow. While FIFPro and the PSFT put out falsified figures on Russia, the actual Footballers Union is working hard to make sure footballers are supported on and off the pitch, and after their careers end.

Though the PSFT refused to respond or refute allegations, we have been told by a source close to them that they are considering disbanding the union due to debts incurred in their operations and pending court cases. Whether or not this is to be the case is of little importance to FIFPro. The global bodies 3 monkey’s approach (See, hear and speak no evil) to observance of their members activities is not new, though given the outrage over all things Russian, they could ride the populist wave and show how much better they are than WADA, the IOC and other corrupted bodies.

FIFPro can save footballers and football in Russia. The environment is ripe for their full on support. The country is at a crossroads and would value the International recognition for something that is being actively improved and led by respected figures such as Zotov and Shirokov. The time is now, if only FIFPro will listen. However the last words of Alexander Zotov are too close to the truth, I fear.

“Sometimes it’s easier to close your eyes than to act.”

*Both FIFPro and the PSFT were contacted by phone, email and social media on numerous occasions over 2 weeks. Also sent to both were lists of questions relevant to the situation. Neither felt the need to respond.

Author: Alan Moore

A Russia-based Sports Journalist and Consultant, worked with major sports clubs including:- Spartak Moscow, Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt. Boxed Internationally, played semi-pro football and I worked full-time in sports management/consultancy from 2003-13.

First published professionally on football in 1990, first Russian league match in 1991, now Hosting Capital Sports on Capital FM, Moscow and writing the odd article.

Leave a Reply