The Pro League Committee hosted the first of two Professional Players’ Seminars, in association with Abu Dhabi Sports Council and Dubai Sports Council and The AFC, FIFA, FIFPro and INTERPOL at the Rocco Forte Hotel in Abu Dhabi on Saturday morning. Attended by a large number of professional players from all five clubs based in Abu Dhabi – Al Ain, Al Jazira, Al Wahda, Bani Yas and Al Dhafra – the seminar was opened by Colin Smith, CEO of the Pro League Committee, who welcomed all players and attendees. Mr. Smith also thanked the experts from the various participating organisations for offering their wisdom on a range of topics, covering the rights and obligations of professional players, as well as the important issue of match fixing, and Mr. Smith stressed the benefits of activating two-way discussions between the players and experts to improve the understanding of true professionalism.
Mr. Kaita Sugihara addressed the assembled players and explained the targets in his role as Head of the AFC Development Programme, confirming that professionalism in football encompasses players and clubs, and both on- and off-the-pitch activities. Mr. Sugihara detailed the vision of the AFC Development Programme, which aims to improve management of leagues, clubs, marketing, sponsorship and various other elements throughout the confederation.
Offering great insight into the world of the professional player, Mr. Brendan Schwab, Board Member of FIFPro, addressed the audience of players regarding their rights and obligations in their roles as professional footballers, reminding them that despite the unusual nature of their job, they are indeed employees with relevant rights and requirements.  Mr. Schwab emphasised the short-term nature and the added risk factors in the career of a professional footballer, and the subsequent need to protect their rights and interests in what can sometimes be an unstable career. Detailing the role of FIFPro as a global organisation representing over 55,000 professional players from 55 member unions worldwide, Mr. Schwab explained the support and protection FIFPro can offer to professional players through the functions of FIFA’s Dispute Settlement Body in contractual matters and in the event of career-threatening injuries and illnesses. Mr. Schwab also stressed the importance of players being fully committed to their roles, making every effort to improve their physical and technical abilities in order to become the best that they can possibly be. Calling on the guidance of seasoned pros at each club, Mr. Schwab recommended that young players seek advice from their elder teammates, to learn from their experiences and prepare themselves for the future. “The player should involve himself in the football community and take his role as a professional very seriously, for the good of the reputation of his club and his country,” Mr. Schwab said.
Former Liverpool and Aston Villa manager and current Head of Global Football for Red Bull, Gerard Houllier, captivated the audience with his words regarding the roles and responsibilities of professional players today. “Football is the biggest sport in the world and followed closely by millions, so professional footballers have a responsibility to set a good example and be ambassadors for their clubs, their countries, and for the game in general,” the Frenchman said. “Football is a game of extreme and intense emotions, and we are dealing with young men under the age of 30, who are bound to be emotional and of course sometimes make mistakes. The main thing is for players to learn from any errors, and be understanding of others’ emotions around him,” he continued. Houllier continued by telling the players that their skills alone are not enough to guarantee achievement, saying: “A successful football career is not based purely on talent; it is determined by the quality of a player’s attitude.”
Current Bani Yas striker and Egyptian football star Mohamed Aboutrika also took part in the panel discussion, advising his fellow UAE Pro League colleagues to commit fully to their training schedule, set a good example on and off the pitch, and be grateful for the fortunate position in which they find themselves. “Players must use their talent mixed with good spirit, strong character and dedication to succeed in their careers and should always be thankful for being in a position to bring joy to the lives of thousands of spectators,” the Egyptian international said, adding a recommendation to his peers that they be socially responsible and involve themselves in charitable activities and community projects.
Representatives from INTERPOL and FIFA, Julie Norris and Nick Raudenski, provided a vital segment of the seminar to raise players’ awareness of the threat and risks of match fixing. By involving players in discussion and role plays, the message that UAE is not immune from the danger of match fixing – despite betting not taking place in the country – was heard loud and clear by the audience. Players were warned of the consequences of becoming complicit in match fixing and were given tips on how to spot a potential approach from a match fixer, and what to do in order to report any suspicious activities to the relevant FIFA department.
Concluding the seminar, Mr. Aref Al Awani, Director of Abu Dhabi Sports Care Program for Abu Dhabi Sports Council, summarised the discussion points of the day, stating: “Professional players realise the importance of their roles on a public stage and they must be fully committed to their clubs and exhibit care in the community and social responsibility.” Mr. Al Awani thanked all participants and attendees, and confirmed the support structure offered by Abu Dhabi Sports Council to professional players of Abu Dhabi clubs, both during their playing careers and after retirement.
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