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How Professional Athletes Direct Their Players Associations | Q&A with Simon Colosimo, FIFPRO

As a former star of Australia’s National Soccer League and A-League, and a 26x capped player for Australia’s “Socceroos” National Team, Simon Colosimo understands the professional athlete experience firsthand. He served as a player representative with his various players associations, then worked his way up within FIFPRO, serving in advisory, board members, and member services roles in Asia and Oceania before assuming his current role as FIFPRO’s deputy general secretary. 

FIFPRO – the PTPA’s sister organization in global soccer/football – represents more than 65,000 male and female professional footballers worldwide, fighting for many of the same protections, improvements, and opportunities that the PTPA is focused on addressing on behalf of pro tennis players. Simon spoke with the PTPA about how he’s seen professional athletes directly shape the industry, why player organization is crucial for driving impact, and more.

1. Tell us about your current role at FIFPRO as Deputy General Secretary. What are your key areas of focus?

SC: I am one of two Deputy General Secretaries at FIFPRO, the global union for professional footballers. I support the organisation’s General Secretary on strategy as we represent and cater for the workplace needs of around 65,000 men’s and women’s players worldwide.

2. How are you working directly with footballers in your current role to ensure their voices are heard and their direct input is used in shaping the future of the sport?

SC: FIFPRO is the global body of 70 national player associations. Those member unions represent footballers at a domestic level, while FIFPRO acts as the voice of the players on the world level.

That player voice is at the heart of everything we do at FIFPRO, and our Global Player Council consists of 35 footballers with senior international experience and demonstrated leadership qualities – including Giorgio Chiellini, Lucy Bronze and Arturo Vidal, to name but a few. The council ensures viewpoints from both men’s and women’s football and different leagues from around the world are heard and it gives players a real say in how their industry is shaped. We’re always inspired by the enthusiasm and sense of solidarity of the council. I was president of the Australian player union at the same time I played on the national team, so I can identify with their passion to represent their fellow professionals.

3. Can you share a few examples of how FIFPRO has meaningfully changed the game and improved the professional experience for footballers?

SC: Our unified strength was recently illustrated when FIFPRO, member unions, and over 150 players from 25 national teams helped secure improved conditions and prize money from FIFA for players at the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup. It was the largest piece of collective action ever undertaken by women’s footballers.

FIFPRO also put pressure on FIFA to implement the maternity standards included in the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, which gives maternity and postpartum protections to women’s players across the world. That came into play in 2021 and when football clubs have not respected those regulations, FIFPRO has given legal representation to players. For instance, FIFPRO represented former Iceland captain Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir when her former club Olympique Lyon initially refused to pay her salary in full throughout her pregnancy and until the start of her maternity leave. In what turned out to be a ground-breaking case, Sara became the first player to win a claim through the FIFA Maternity Regulations. 

We’ve also worked with key stakeholders such as FIFA to launch the likes of the Charter of Player Data Rights to help push for footballers to have more say in how their data – which is being captured in the employment context – is used and shared, and we also worked with FIFA to launch a social media protection service at World Cup in Qatar, to help protect players from social media abuse.

And last but not least, FIFPRO developed and launched the Red Button app, which helps players safely report match-fixing approaches. The app is made available to players via their national association.

4. Both FIFPRO and the PTPA are working across men’s and women’s players worldwide. How does FIFPRO’s work with both men’s and women’s footballers help the organization amplify impact across both sides of the game?

SC: We recognise there are different needs in the men’s and women’s football industries and that sometimes requires a bespoke approach to both. We have experts in our policy team that are dedicated to either men’s or women’s football, and that helps to identify the unique challenges that exist in both fields and provide tailored solutions. Having said that, of course, there is common ground in both sectors, such as workload of elite players, standard player contracts, and ensuring a safe working environment.

We also recently had an example of two Global Player Council members – Giorgio Chiellini and Ali Riley – meet to discuss the differences between the men’s and women’s game, especially when it comes to conditions, investment and visibility, and what solutions can be provided when both sides come together to share best practice.

5. Prior to joining FIFPRO, you competed professionally for the Australian National Team and across the Premier League, Belgian First Division, and Australia’s A-League. How did players associations impact your own professional career at the international level and/or at the club level?

SC: I started my career at Carlton SC, which was a wonderful club. I was 18 years old, being paid well and everything seemed great. Then, suddenly, the club couldn’t afford to pay us. I was still living with my parents at the time, they were feeding me and putting a roof over my head, so I was personally fine. But I saw the impact that it had on some of the older, seasoned professionals of that team, who had given up a lot of their lives to the game, to then be stuck in a situation where salaries aren’t going to come for months on end, and who had families to feed and mortgages to pay.

PFA Australia came in and I sat in the background of the discussions. That’s what triggered my interest in player unions. Seeing Brendan Schwab, now Executive Director of World Players Association, come in and fight for us, it really inspired me to learn more about player unions.

6. You were also involved in Professional Footballers Australia throughout your career as an executive committee member and eventually as president. What motivated you to take on these leadership roles as a player?

SC: As a player, you’re motivated by: how can I contribute on the field to be successful? As a teenager, after seeing PFA Australia in action for the first time, I was also then asking myself: how can I contribute off the field?

I’ve been motivated since then by wanting to leave the game in a better place. That started in Australia at a domestic level where I was president of the union for 10 years which eventually created a pathway to where I am now at FIFPRO. As a player, I was inspired to improve the lives of footballers. When it’s work, they’re no longer footballers – they’re people. Their contracts need to be respected; their conditions need to be good. That passion has always stayed with me.

7. What were a few of the most meaningful lessons on player empowerment and collectivism that you took away from your time as president of Professional Footballers Australia?

SC: The safe release of Hakeem Al-Araibi, the player and refugee who was detained in Thailand, was perhaps the most significant demonstration of the power of the collective in Australian Football.

It brought the country in – it brought the world in – and we saw the football community come together to protect one of our own. It really showed what can be achieved through the collective player voice.

8. How did your professional playing career help prepare you to pivot into an executive role with FIFPRO?

SC: PFA Australia, where I was president for 10 years, are a member of FIFPRO. Brendan Schwab and I helped set up player unions in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Korea Republic, who are all now FIFPRO members. When developing this through Asia, I got a tap on the shoulder and was asked if I wanted to do this globally. After football, some players like to coach or go into club administration, but I felt this was the perfect pathway for me.

9. You’ve been involved in players associations and FIFPRO on various scales – within Australia, within the Asia/Oceania region, and now on a global level. What is the importance of having collectivism across footballers globally, and why should tennis players strive to build a similar model of global player unity?

SC: There is strength in numbers and organising players, the protagonists of football, on a global level ensures we can push for better, fairer conditions through collective bargaining – ensuring the player voice isn’t drowned out by governing bodies.

All players, no matter where they are based, should have the same fundamental right to collectively negotiate for fair working conditions. That principle is certainly transferrable across all sports.

10. In your opinion, what’s the number one reason why all professional athletes should be involved in their players association?

SC: To have a voice. Being involved in a player association gives you a say in how your industry is shaped. And the strength of the player voice should never be underestimated.

11. What’s one piece of advice you would offer tennis players as they push for greater player advocacy and a more meaningful seat at the stakeholders table in their own Sport?

SC: There is strength in unity and the power of the collective brings about positive change. Trust in each other, stay united, and that positive change will come.