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Semir Bajraktarevic: How FIFPRO and FIFA’s Fund for Football Players helped recoup our unpaid salaries

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Semir Bajraktarevic is a former professional footballer from Bosnia and Herzegovina. During his last season in 2020/21, his club FK Olimpik dissolved, leaving him and other players with various months of unpaid salaries. Through the FIFA Fund for Football Players, which has been set up by FIFPRO and FIFA, Bajraktarevic and his former team-mates were able to receive a large part of the monies owed.

By Semir Bajraktarevic

Before I inform you about what happened at FK Olimpik, I will tell you about my first experiences with our player union in Bosnia and Herzegovina, SPFBiH. 

I was under contract with a club in Albania that had not paid my salary or the rent for my apartment for three months. I called the union’s general secretary Tarik Trbic. He provided me with a default notice that I should give to the club and told me that I could return home after a couple of days.

Immediately after I sent the termination letter, the club president called me, telling me I would get all my money if I stayed. I said no, and we went to the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber where we won my case.

The next season, 2020/21, I joined Olimpik, a modest Premier League club without much expectations, the third club in our capital Sarajevo. We were a small team and didn’t have many fans; sometimes we would have 1,000 spectators, or when bigger clubs visited, maybe 2,000 or 3,000.

We were playing an away match and the referee was making very strange decisions against us. At half time the owner called me, as I was the captain during that match, and told us that we should not go outside to finish the game.

We were afraid of the consequences if we would not finish that match. The club would probably be relegated and go out of business, and then we would not get all the salaries we were owed.

The club had debts with all players. Very often, you would only receive one salary every two months. Personally, I could deal with this because I had played in Israel for three years and had saved some money. But there were other players who had been at Olimpik longer that were feeling the financial difficulties of the club.

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Players from FK Olimpik during the 2020/21 season
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Semir Bajraktarevic
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Semir Bajraktarevic

There were players with kids who needed to pay the rent. One of my team-mates told me that the owner of his apartment wanted to evict him, his wife and two children. These were big problems.

How can you play a game if you don’t know what will be happening to your home? Some players had to borrow money from their families. Sometimes, the director – who was our friend – would help them by paying a small part of the outstanding salaries when he noticed that players were in trouble.

So, we finished that match, but the owner decided that we were not going to play the two remaining matches of the season. He didn’t want to pay any more money and told me that he wanted the club to be relegated, so that he could shut it down. And that’s exactly what happened.

Olimpik owed us, the players, around USD 150,000 in total. I was owed three salaries. On average my team-mates were not paid for six months.

The union told me that they would help us and asked me to arrange a meeting with the players. So, I went there with the union president Aldin Didic and Tarik, and they started talking about the FIFA Fund for Football Players. They said how it can help players receive their outstanding salaries if their club disappears, just like what had happened to us. The players looked at me in disbelief and thought that Aldin, Tarik and I were joking, that this fund did not exist.

I told them: ‘Trust the union. We will go to FIFPRO and FIFA and we will try to get the money’. My team-mates listened. The union told all the players to share their contracts with them and inform them about their salary arrears. Even though many team-mates had their doubts, they collaborated. Within a couple of months, the union arranged all paperwork.

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We waited for almost 2.5 years until two months ago, when Tarik sent me a message: he had received confirmation from FIFPRO that we would get a substantial part of the money that we were owed.

I informed the players and they couldn’t believe it. They thought we would never get the money, that we were screwed. But I told them that this miracle is really happening. This Fund for Football Players is the best thing.

It is a huge victory for our union. Years ago, people scratched their heads when the SPFBiH started: how are you going to fight all these powerful club presidents? But our union has shown that they can do a very good job.

They’ve won a lot of cases, including our case. There was a lot of media reporting about this success. Our union has proven that they can solve difficult issues, even cases that no one thought could be solved. Everybody is taking them seriously now.

And this fund arranged by FIFA and FIFPRO is unbelievable. It is like you have a big brother behind you who will protect you.