In recent weeks, all football organised activities have been suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak; leaving football players severely affected financially, physically and psychologically.
Globally, several professional footballers have agreed to pay cuts amid the crisis. In Spain, Barcelona players took a 70 percent pay cut so that other employees can earn their salaries in full.
In England, the players’ Union body discouraged players against accepting the 30 percent pay cut until an agreement is reached, with some players claiming that a pay cut would be detrimental to their livelihoods since some of the players in the second and third tier leagues do not earn much.
Locally, Gor Mahia FC and AFC Leopards have been struggling to pay players due to lack of sponsors and the pandemic might just worsen the situation.
Kakamega Homeboyz chairman, Cleophas Shimanyula recently said that his players will have to make do with salary reductions; due to the fact that his businesses are suffering, hence he cannot pay them with ease like it has been the norm.
The women clubs have not been left out either, three-time Women's Premier League (WPL) champions, Vihiga Queens despite not having been paid for the last six months, may continue going without pay during this unprecedented period.
From the outside, this is the club that every player in the WPL would wish to play for not just because of their ability to clinch titles with ease, but because it is the only team in the league with proper contracts and sponsorship from the County government.
This can only mean that players from other community clubs have hit rock bottom, if at all they have been reliant on the training and game allowances to make ends meet, without other sources of income.
Back up plans
During this time, a player without a second career, a business or a learnt skill is going through a rough patch. In as much as it is not all gloom since some clubs like Ulinzi Starlets have gone an extra mile to ensure that players are employed in the disciplined forces, while others like Oserian Ladies work in the mother flower company, the sad reality is that majority of these players have no back up plans or savings to cushion them at least until life goes back to normal.
So probably in the future, clubs need to make a deliberate effort of organising economic empowerment and livelihood trainings for the players like it happened at National Super League (NSL) side Talanta FC, while also encouraging them to enroll for online courses just so they are prepared for life after football.
In the last three years, FKF has partnered with the German Corporation Development to incorporate a Sport for Development (S4D) approach, where coaching not only aims at bringing out the best players, but also shaping the players by teaching them life skills on the pitch, while relating the game to real life experiences so that they easily grasp the concept of “Violence Prevention and Peace Promotion.”
If this approach can further be used to train players of importance of education, employment among other topics, that will play a role in changing the players’ mindset so that they are prepared for unforeseen occurrences whether there is a global crisis or not.
Normally, when a professional player is 19 or 20 years old, they feel like they can do anything in football, join the biggest clubs, play for the national team and it is almost as if they have imaginary super powers with or without a proper education or a business plan.
However, when they hit 35, their career is more or less finished and when reality kicks in that life is not just about being able to play football, to some it is too late, while others smoothly transition to pursuing other things.
It is therefore about taking personal initiative with the right guidance, and accepting that football is a short-term career that in most cases can only be a stepping stone to a better future.
In the Kenyan context, most talented players come from rough neighbourhoods and slum areas, where crime is the order the day. Some have football to thank for pulling them out of gangs; otherwise they would be armed robbers or dead by now if not for the power of sports.
These players are vulnerable and in dire need of support at this time, say, setting aside extra resources to cater for their needs, having an online platform they can reach out for mental support or even legal advice now that some are probably being laid off without clubs following due process, while others will be out of contract without a clear plan on their next steps hence could resort to doing the unthinkable.
In as much as the novel coronavirus is deadly, its effects are more damaging hence how players are handled during this period will be key.
It is at such significant times, that solutions must be found with everybody’s contribution.