Veteran players reveal Syria’s unprofessional football system
Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim
Football in Syria is witnessing continuous confusion, and the corruption files revealed by the media spark widespread interaction in the Syrian sports street, which no longer relies on the words and promises of the Football Association, according to local social media accounts.
The league has not started, and the clubs are burdened with financial penalties amid the possibility of the absence of fans from the stadiums.
Players who were part of the memory of Syrian football and scored records in its history were left without attention or care, as some of them were displaced in the streets of Syria, and some were left to their fates, struggling to obtain medicines, treatment, or decent living.
This comes in light of promises that are not implemented, reforms that are still hidden in data, and memorandums of understanding whose terms will not see the light amid the presence of two entities: the Football Association, headed by Salah Ramadan, and the General Sports Federation, headed by Firas Mualla.
The above is not new to football followers in Syria, but it is no longer confined to the hearts of fans. It began to come out with insults during matches, behind screens, or with comments on social media, and players, coaches, and administrators spoke out to expose the fragile and exposed Football Association system to everyone.
League whistle is broken
The wheel of the Syrian Football League is still at a standstill after a debate between coaches and the Football Association and criticism from government media and athletes for postponing the start of the competition, which was scheduled to start on August 25 but was postponed to September 22.
On August 21, the Syrian Football Association said that it had decided to postpone the league for a month based on the request of 11 clubs that sent letters to postpone the first two stages due to a lack of technical, physical, and organizational readiness despite previous assurances from Salah Ramadan that it would not be postponed and his surprise at the demands, considering that this would impose financial burdens on the clubs that are suffering financially.
The state-run Tishreen newspaper said at the time that one of the factors behind the postponement decisions was “the lack of vision and organizational experience among the Football Association members.”
Meanwhile, the ruling party’s al-Baath newspaper attacked those in charge of the competitions in the Association because they did not take into account the interest of the clubs by setting an acceptable, logical, realistic, and easy match agenda and that the suffering will continue as in previous seasons.
Early last August, before the postponement, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Al-Wahda Club, Maher al-Sayed, addressed Salah Ramadan at the annual conference of the Football Association’s General Assembly, saying, “The question I want to ask is that the stadiums are not ready, and I have information that all the stadiums are not ready in the various governorates, and the league without the presence of the fans has no value.”
Al-Sayed continued, “As president of Al-Wahda Club, I will not start the league without an audience because the sweetness of football and the strength of the league is in the fans. If the stadium grass is not ready and the fans will not attend, this means that there is no development in the level of the game.”
Players looking for their salaries
Players and administrators of football clubs in Syria suffer from the inability to collect their financial rights stipulated in the contracts owed to their clubs even after their retirement, despite the existence of the Football Association and the existence of a law that prevents the club from participating in the league before it clears its financial liability.
Former football player Abdul-Qader Dakka, who played for many Syrian clubs and the national team, is still searching for his financial rights from Afrin Club despite the Football Association’s approval of them.
The player considered that the Football Association’s ruling in his favor for a sum from the club is merely “ink on paper,” and there is no party that can collect players’ money from clubs.
Dakka told the local sports program “The Captain” that the Football Association grants players their financial rights from the clubs, but the money cannot be collected, despite the existence of a law that forces clubs before the start of each season to liquidate the financial liabilities of their former players, pointing out that his situation is similar to many players.
On December 21, 2022, Al-Ittihad Club (Ahly Aleppo) announced the termination of the contract of its Nigerian striker, Okiki Afolabi, by mutual consent after the player left Syria more than a month ago for not paying his financial dues.
The termination of the contract came more than 40 days after the Nigerian left Syrian territory, and the last match he played was on October 21, 2022, against Al-Taliya Club.
Clubs in Syria are suffering from financial hardship, accompanied by financial penalties imposed by the Football Association due to repeated riot incidents, followed by criticism directed at the Association.
Among them was the criticism of the president of Al-Ittihad Club (Ahly Aleppo), Raseen Martini, who considered that the punishments were “unjust and unrealistic” against the clubs, demanding that they be directed to the responsible persons.
Martini stated that all stadiums in the world have surveillance cameras and law enforcement officers trained in riot situations, and it is their responsibility to identify and detect abusers and impose penalties on them exclusively.
Football memory in Syria is exhausted
Amid deteriorating living and economic conditions and successive crises taking place in Syria, the football system in Syria lacks interest in former players, allocating support to them or caring for the sick among them.
Former Syrian national team player Jamal Kishk needs no less than 2.5 million Syrian pounds (about $180) per month for treatment for the diseases he suffers from.
Cancer has affected various parts of the former veteran player’s body since 2001, while he receives a monthly pension from the Sports Federation amounting to 90,000 Syrian pounds ($7).
Kishk told the local Global Network last July that he needs one to two surgeries every year. These operations require high costs, pointing out that those who help him are former athletes and businessmen, and there is simple support from the Sports Federation according to capabilities.
He stated that his illness is not covered by the General Sports Federation’s insurance, calling for the formation of a fund or finding a solution to support athletes in need.
Last June 6, the appearance of former Syrian national football team player Joseph Shahrestan, complaining about his living and social situation through a video interview entitled “From Fame to Homelessness,” sparked widespread interaction in the Syrian sports street and dissatisfaction with the Sports Federation’s lack of interest in the symbols of the game.
Shahrestan called on those in charge of sports in Syria to support football players and stars in Syria and provide them with medical care so that they can complete their lives, especially since they have raised Syria’s name in the world of sports.
He called for attention to be given to “poor and low-income” athletes because most Syrian football players come from humble families and are supposed to receive support.
Shahrestan said that the owner of the house he was renting kept him on the street and that “sadness and anger are present because the financial balance is weak, and the social balance with the notable sports people is missing.”
Promises locked in data
In the face of this deteriorating sporting reality, the Syrian Football Association and its president, Salah al-Din Ramadan, who assumed office on May 23, 2022, make many promises and sign memorandums of understanding, the most recent of which was on August 13 with the president of the Saudi Football Federation, Yasser bin Hassan al-Meshal.
The Syrian Association said that the memorandum of understanding focused on hosting training camps for Syrian national teams in the Saudi Kingdom, developing youth teams, comprehensive training for referees, and workshops for coaches.
As part of the memorandum, the Syrian age-group teams in both countries will participate in friendly matches and tournaments in the future and provide an opportunity for the women’s national teams to benefit from competitive training camps in the future.
The Saudi Federation agreed to provide its Syrian counterpart with VAR “light” technology, assigning those concerned in the two federations to research the matter and begin preparing cadres for this, including referees and technicians, according to the Syrian Federation.
The Saudi Football Federation said through its official account that al-Meshal discussed with Ramadan ways to enhance cooperation between the two federations during the coming period “in a way that serves Arab and Asian football,” without any other details.
In October 2022, Ramadan said that the Football Association seeks to use VAR technology in Syrian league matches starting next season and is trying to secure all the necessary equipment for it.
Ramadan’s words were met with a wave of ridicule on social media because they came two days after the death of Khaled al-Sheikh, the football goalkeeping coach at Moadamiya al-Sham Club, as a result of a health crisis he suffered during a match in Syria amid the absence of ambulances inside the stadiums.
At the stadium level, the Al-Fayhaa and Al-Abbasid stadiums suffer from poor infrastructure and poor ground and need rehabilitation. The Football Association is trying to attract support by informing sports delegations about the reality of the two stadiums, but to no avail.
Sports in Syria are considered far from the priorities of the Syrian regime, which it uses to assert its presence externally, amid accusations of “corruption and nepotism” in the sports system in Syria.
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