*Robbie Gaspar, from Fremantle, played professional football in Indonesia from 2005 to 2012. Throughout this time he became a fan-favourite for the manner in which he played the game and engaged with the fans. He speaks Indonesian fluently, and, has a lazy 95,000 followers on Twitter. He has worked for FIFPro and for APPI – Indonesian Professional Football Association. Below is a speech Robbie gave at a recent conference in Singapore regarding his time as a player in Indonesia and the dire consequences of the neglect of players’ health and welfare.
I first arrived in South East Asia in 2002 and enjoyed ten years doing what I love in Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. In that time, I spent a year in Brunei, two years in Malaysia and seven years in Indonesia.
Today, I am keen to focus on my time in Indonesia – the place I was based in for seven years. I think it’s very important that to highlight to members from across the globe what is going on in Indonesia. In Asia as we all know football is very popular and this is definitely the case in Indonesia. I couldn’t believe the passion for football people had in Indonesia when I first arrived back in 2005.
In Indonesia stadiums are always full, players are seen as celebrities and they were well paid for what they do. The players work hard, sacrifice many things and are deserving of this pay. For example the local players in Indonesia are the best players from over 250million people. They are also under an immense amount of pressure to perform and as we know the career as a footballer doesn’t last very long.
My first five years in Indonesia was fantastic, but unfortunately the last two years left a sour taste in my mouth. Football changed a lot in the last two years In Indonesia. Football became very political. There were two leagues from rival political factions trying to sway voters with the election coming and due to this the players suffered, as they were pawns in a political chess game.
The things I heard, saw and experienced were disgraceful. At the end of my last season I decided I had had enough. Players were not getting paid: some going up to 11 months without receiving a salary and since 2012, four foreign players have passed away. I thought it would be good to pay respect to them, and to highlight how this system- which has been broken for a long time – cost these boys much more than anyone here would think.
Death by Negligence and Mismanagement
Diego Mendieta was a footballer that played for the Solo based club Peris Solo FC. Diego died on December 3, 2012, due to an easily treatable disease. There he lay, helpless. Alone. Dying. If the club had paid what he was owed – an estimated USD$12,500 – he would still be here today with us. Diego sent countless messages for help to the Indonesian Football Federation (PSSI), but they refused to do anything. In the wake of his death, Frederique Winia, secretary general of FIFPro Division Asia said: ‘ This is a disgrace for the whole of professional football in Indonesia…I assume that both the club and the national football association of Indonesia realise that they have seriously failed and that they have much to explain, particularly to the family and relatives of Diego Mendieta.’ Despite the great efforts of FIFPro, Brendan Schwab and Frederique Winia and APPI the situation in Indonesia has not improved. This is not an isolated incident. Solomon Begondo from Cameroon also passed away because he couldn’t afford medical treatment (see this BBC article). Solomon went ten months without receiving a salary from his club Persipro in East Java.
Sekou Camara of Mali passed away of a heart attack, I know Sekou went nine months without receiving a salary from his club in Aceh and then didn’t receive a salary for five months from his club Persiwa in West Papua.
The fourth player who has passed away and which I found very hard to take was my former teammate Bruno Zandonardi. We played together for a season and we ended up becoming close friends. Bruno had some bad luck with clubs and not getting paid and I don’t know if it contributed to his death but it couldn’t have helped. I remember when we played together he injured his knee. He tried to come back but kept on breaking down. The club decided to change Bruno but they said that they would only offer him two months salary in compensation when he had close to six months left to be paid.He also needed to pay for an operation and rehabilitation, which the club said they would not help him with.
I told him to take the case to FIFA and he said ‘I would Robbie but I can’t afford to wait the two years for my case to heard and also run the risk of being blacklisted by the federation and not getting a club again.’ The federation of Indonesia (the PSSI) on most occasions blacklists players who report Indonesian clubs to FIFA.While still in Indonesia, trying to work through issues of pay, to rehabilitate and to find a new club, he was infected during treatment in an Indonesian hospital. This led to his untimely death.
In 2013, there were 105 cases reported to the players association of Indonesia APPI. The rate of abuses of players rights must be much higher given not all cases are reported. What this is doing to players psychologically? I fear we will only find out later down the track. I know the 2011/12 season which was my last in Indonesia around 80-85% of clubs were late with their salaries. In 2011, I went five months without getting paid and my case is still at FIFA but I have almost resigned to the fact that I will not receive my money that I am owed because my club has been wound up and are starting afresh under a slightly new name and entity, which means that they don’t need to pay any of their outstanding debts. Other clubs would call the players at the end of season and tell them that they can only offer them one or two months but the players are actually owed sometimes between five and ten.
The club would say take it or leave it, and threaten the players that if they didn’t take it and they reported the club to the federation or local court that they would make sure they would not get another club next season and sometimes threaten them and their families. The players in the end would up taking the one or two months on offer because they desperately needed the money. We had a case last year when the players from PSMS Medan were not paid for seven months and they went to the PSSI to protest and ask them for assistance but the federation ended up sanctioning the players for protesting against their club for not paying their salaries that they were owed.
It can be asked why don’t the players go and play for another club? Regrettably, the majority of the clubs are the same and this is all the players have done since they left school. They have no other qualifications or experiences and the clubs know this and take advantage of this fact. Another thing most of the players playing in Indonesia didn’t finish school and they don’t know what to do when they finish playing as that is what most of them have been doing for most of their lives.
Life After Football
I found it tough when I finished playing to find out what I wanted to do and I am only now slowly starting finding my feet after 18 months but I’m one of the lucky ones. I have had countless calls; texts & emails from my former teammates if I can find them work in Australia because a lot of them don’t have anything to fall back on after their careers are over.
That’s why its important that we get the player associations up and running so we can help players with their transition for life after football. I’m 33 and back at university but if I had someone who I could of spoken to while I was playing about the importance of finishing your degree or diploma, then it would of helped with my transition when I finished playing.
Another thing I think a lot of people also don’t understand the travelling involved throughout Indonesia and how it takes a toll on you. I remember once having to play 13 games in 43 days and eight of them were away from home. Coming home from one of those away games took us close to 18 hours. We had three flights and a bus ride in that journey and then when we arrived home the next day we were back on the road again.
The federation doesn’t care about the player’s welfare. They squeeze all these games into a short space of time, not taking into account the travel involved, the hot and humid conditions and then we don’t play another game for a month. We are not provided with decent medical facilities, players are forced to play with injuries because they are worried they will have their contracts torn up and end up with nothing.
Teams in Indonesia tear up player’s contracts like the contract doesn’t even exist when they are injured and only give the player a month’s compensation even though the recovery from the injury will take sometimes 9-12 months. The quality of play is affected and also the career spans of players are affected. Another thing I would like to mention that if the player wants to terminate his contract he must pay 200% of the total contract value back to the club
We have set up a players association to try and sort all these problems out but in saying this it has been very difficult to get players on board. The federation and clubs have threatened players if they join APPI. Our President Ponaryo Astaman I know has had his family threatened on numerous occasions because he is the President of APPI and is trying to look after the player’s best interests. I am getting emails and calls everyday from players regarding their problems and it is not getting any better.The National federation has now set up their own rival Players Association they say to look after the player’s best interests, which is unbelievable, but what can you do. Anything is possible in Indonesian football.
Fight for Players Rights
Experiencing what I have experienced has only given me extra motivation to help the players to have a stronger voice in Indonesia because they deserve a lot better and I know if the players are treated better than maybe Indonesia will be able to reach the potential they possess and one day become a major power in world football. We need to ensure that this situation is improved. We have an obligation to the four deceased players and too countless others who have fought hopeless battles to get what is owed to them.
Interview by Tim Flicker: Basa-basi with Robbie Gaspar