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Int'l footballers' union executive says S. Korean players need voice

All Headlines 18:04 June 08, 2017

By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, June 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's pro football players need to have a voice and they deserve to have a representative organization here, a high-ranking official at the international pro footballers' union said Thursday.

Theo van Seggelen, secretary-general at FIFPro, said South Korea will officially become a member of the global footballers' association in its general congress in Cairo in December. At its two-day Asia-Oceania Congress in Seoul, FIFPro officials discussed ways to help South Korean footballers set up their own representative group.

FIFPro, the only players' association recognized by FIFA, represents more than 65,000 players worldwide, including stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and has more than 60 national players' associations as its members. Based in the Netherlands, the organization has been helping the players protect their rights and enhance their working conditions.

"We're not here to fight (with clubs or federations)," said van Seggelen. "We're here to support the players here just like what we do in other countries."

Members of FIFPro, the worldwide pro footballers' union, attend their Asia-Oceania Congress in Seoul on June 8, 2017. (Yonhap)

South Korea's professional football league started in 1983, but the players do not yet have a union.

"I know in this country, it's all new," he said. "But the players need to have a voice. Why not in Korea?"

FIFPro, founded in 1965, said it has been studying the situation in South Korea and it is willing to support the establishment of the players' union here. South Korean officials said that they contacted FIFPro two years ago and tried to set up the players' union. They formed a preparation committee for the union in December 2016 and recently submitted documents to the Seoul Metropolitan Government to make the union a legal entity.

"The time has come," he said. "These international rules outside football should be implemented in this country."

Van Seggelen emphasized that the players' union is not a protest group. He added that it will actively cooperate with teams and federations when it comes to protecting players' rights.

"The players are a very important part of football," he said. "And they need to be open to talk about their problems."

FIFPro said it understands that the local players here are nervous about their participation, but the international group is ready to back them up.

"They (the players) deserve to have a representative group," he said. "We have a lot of knowledge in pro football."

Theo van Seggelen (3rd from R), secretary-general at FIFPro, a worldwide pro footballers' union, speaks during the organization's Asia-Oceania Congress in Seoul on June 8, 2017. (Yonhap)

According to South Korean footballers' union executives, 192 players from the first-tier K League Classic and the second-division K League Challenge have so far said they will join the union.

"We have five executive directors, including former Suwon Samsung Bluewings defender Kwak Hee-ju and former Daejeon Citizen player Kim Han-sup," said Park Ji-hoon, a lawyer who has been advising the establishment of the union. "Three other directors are active players, so we can't reveal who they are at this moment."

Kim, who will be the chief of directors, said more players will join the union once it begins its activities. The 35-year-old, who retired from playing in 2014, said the union will focus on enhancing players' rights, welfare and working conditions.

"It took a long time to come this far," he said. "Coaches and even football agents have their own representative groups, but the pro players have never been protected."

Kim said the players gathered together after the 2011 match-fixing scandal that rocked the football community.

"The players who are famous and have strong financial backgrounds can survive, but most of the players live in rough conditions," he said. "I believe more players will join us. Unlike the baseball players' association, we're supported by international union FIFPro."

Kwak, who hung up his boots last year and has played on the national team, said young players should step up to secure their rights.

"I know that the clubs are not going to like us, but this is not a bad group," he said. "It's a pity that active players can't step up, but this is an organization that will serve as a guiding light to them."

South Korea's professional footballers' union executives speak to reporters at a Seoul hotel on June 8, 2017. From left are Kwak Hee-ju, Kim Han-sup and Kim Hoon-ki. (Yonhap)

kdon@yna.co.kr
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