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Romanian football ‘slaves’

Florin Anitoiu was desperate. He has traveled 10 hours on an overnight train to give the interview for BBC in Bucharest. He wanted to tell the world how the game he grew up loving is keeping him prisoner.

He is a young full-back for Metalul Resita in Romania’s second division. He has not been paid for five months and is forbidden from changing clubs. »Every night I cry and then every morning I’m training on my own,« says the 23-year-old. »I don’t see how the situation could change in the near future. I can’t survive in these conditions – I have debts, bills to pay and eventually I will have to find another job.«

Under Romanian law, a club that enters administration does not have to pay or release players until it gets its finances in order. The players are considered assets of the club.
Eventually, Florin had enough. Already in November 2015 he and several teammates staged a boycott. Instead of playing in a match they held up a banner prior to kick off that said ‘football 2015 = slavery’.

»We wanted to get a reaction, to show we could not go on this way,« said Anitoiu. However, while many other teams showed their support for the Resita players, so far nothing has changed. Portuguese player Geraldo Alves supports Anitoiu’s stance and experienced the effects of insolvency during his time with Petrolul Ploiesti. »I was there for two years and everything was quite good until our president was arrested. He used insolvency to run away from the debts,« Alves told BBC World Service. »It’s not only the players affected, it’s also the people around football – the doctors, the masseuse, the guys who look after the grass. They are not paid for seven or eight months, they don’t have anything to eat, don’t know how to survive. This is about more than football, it’s about being humane with this problem.«

One man fighting their corner is Emilian Hulubei, the tireless President of the Romanian Players’ Union. He tells there are currently 14 clubs in the top two divisions in insolvency. And in the third division? Too many to count. »The image of football is very low at this moment in Romania,« says Hulubei, who feels that a generation has been lost to the sport as a result: »Parents don’t want their kids to go and play. There are a lot of them who have huge talent and they disappear from football because of this problem.« Hulubei wants politicians to intervene to change the law on insolvency. »I’m really concerned that we at the federation cannot do more in short term,« said the Romanian FA president Razvan Burleanu: »I am not happy to have clubs in insolvency but this is coming from the past. When I became president I didn’t find any strategy about football development. Today, we have a clear vision and strategy on what has to be the next steps.«

You can imagine that Florin’s fate – as many of other talented footballers in Romania – had to be different. But at least two conditions should be guaranteed. Firstly, when the club is not solvent, players should be immediately free with the possibility of leaving. And secondly, as a must: receiving a decent amount for smooth training and playing in their most important years of development. Here they can count on SportyCo’s help.

Photo: Golden years of Romanian football back in 1994 in the USA.