Romanian football: Players to be freed from 'slavery' clubs by new law

By Katie GornallBBC Sport
Former Arsenal youth player Rhema Obed on Romania's 'football slavery'

Hundreds of players kept as "football slaves" in Romania will soon be free to leave their clubs.

About 300 "trapped" players at 14 insolvent clubs can now take legal action to cancel their contracts over unpaid wages.

Players were previously considered assets of any club in administration.

But campaigning from the Romanian players' union, Afan, has led to the country's insolvency law being changed.

It followed protests from players, including a boycott by second division side Metalul Resita, which BBC World Service reported in February.

Speaking to BBC Sport, British footballer Rhema Obed revealed he is still owed more than £40,000 in wages from a seven-month spell with Rapid Bucharest at the start of the 2013-14 season.

"I had just arrived for a pre-season friendly, but my team-mates were on strike and said they were not going to play until they were paid," he said.

"For the first three months, I was delaying my rent and using my savings and my girlfriend's wages. That's how I got by.

"I was also having to call family back home. It was rather embarrassing, being a footballer, but it was the reality. I was getting food from a team-mate's mum."

Obed, then 22, took his case to Fifa and won the ruling in October 2014, but he was frozen out by the club having played only three games.

He is still waiting to receive any money and said world governing body Fifa is threatening to dock Rapid points if they fail to pay him the wages owed.

Romanian second division team Metalul Resita displayed a banner in protest at the treatment of players
Romanian side Metalul Resita have not paid their players in five months since the club entered administration

"Players became slaves there," added Obed, who was in the same Arsenal youth sides as Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin, but was released aged 18.

"I was a bit different because I was a foreigner and I didn't have to respect that law even though they wanted me to. I have a letter from the club telling me I owe them money because I left them when they forced me out.

"For the local players, it's basically modern-day slavery."

From Friday, players who have not been paid for three months can file an application with the Romanian Football Federation and will be free to leave in two to four weeks.

Afan president Emilian Hulubei, who led the campaign for a change in the law, welcomed the decision but said he feared clubs would still "try to cheat the players with bad practice".

"We will have a lot of work to do," said Hulubei. "It's good because there are a lot of teenagers trapped at clubs and now they will be able to move on.

"I just hope this change in the law will encourage the players to stay in football. Unfortunately, some were forced to give up what they love most in the their life."

A statement form global players' union FifPro said the new rules "ends years of unfair treatment in Romania".

Is Romanian football making 'slaves' of players?

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