Not really professional footballers / France / D1 Arkema /

During October, the American footballer Samantha Johnson published an open letter to denounce her situation at ASJ Soyaux, in D1 Arkema. Beyond the conflict between the defender and her former employer, an indisputable reality: the working conditions of high-level footballers in France are generally insufficient, if not dangerous.

It started with an open letter from American Samantha Johnson, sent to a few contacts within FifPro, then published in full on the site. Girls Soccer Network. In her writing, the one who was still the new defender of ASJ Soyaux described a situation there that was the opposite of the image of Épinal of the passion profession. “I always used to be nervous before games. The most important thing was always the first touch, the first pass and the first tackle. It set the tone for the upcoming game for me. Now I’m not nervous anymore because I don’t have to worry if my ball grip is bad or if my passes are not precise, or if I have made a tackle in the wrong timing. Now I’m worried about whether I’m going to get my salary and if I get injured, which would cover the cost of medical care …  »

Since this bag emptied in October – there was also a question of accommodation that the player had to share with the daughter of its president, before being ousted -, the North American has packed up, and her former employers have responded. through the press, the president of ASJ Soyaux Benoît Letapissier having mentioned on the site The teammate « A player who arrived overweight » , denied the lack of medical tests and follow-ups, and claimed that the end of the collaboration was a decision of Johnson. « She took her things and left » , while according to the leader, everything would have been done to find new accommodation. “She had been offered to live in a house where there was already an American, but she didn’t want to. Two days later, we found accommodation in Angoulême. We made an appointment with an agency, but they haven’t given any more.  » End of the story ? Difficult today to draw the true from the false in the contradictory testimonies of the American footballer and her former club.

« If you don’t play in Lyon or Paris, or even in Issy where the city sees its women’s club as a showcase, travel is especially by Inoui train, at twisted schedules … » A player preferring to remain anonymous

Nevertheless, by setting foot in the dish, Samantha Johnson recalled an indisputable reality: when top-level footballers in Ligue 1 are recognized as professionals and for the most part enjoy optimized exercise conditions, among women, even in D1, Johnson’s testimony is not surprising. « We can clearly distinguish the situation between the so-called professional clubs and the other three of the D1, of which Soyaux is a part » , explains Lucie * for whom « A lot of clubs have the capacities to minimize this feeling » amateur « compared to their female teams, but do not do it » . Lucie has evolved in each of the first two levels. The reality she tells « Without animosity » is that of a football where « In most structures, even those which have a female team in D1, women are not a priority » . For equipment, training grounds and the rest. “So if you don’t play in Lyon or Paris, or even in Issy where the city sees its women’s club as a showcase, you train on makeshift grounds late in the day. Your equipment, regularly, is not for your size. And for travel, it is especially by Inoui train, at twisted schedules …  » And that, these are only the minor inconveniences.

« We thought you already knew … »

In her open letter, Samantha Johnson accused her former club of not providing medical follow-up or administrative support worthy of the name. What Soyaux necessarily denies, when Lucie claims to have already heard of situations of this kind in D1 or D2. “In terms of medical monitoring, there are often hiccups. Many injured girls should benefit from the sportsman’s insurance, which depends on the FFF, but few of them are kept informed, and even fewer are actually accompanied by their club to make their statements.  » The follow-up is not stalled, unlike the excuse to come out in case of an indiscreet question: « We thought you already knew … » In charge of the development of women’s football for the UNFP, Laurent Pionnier does not want « To generalize or tap on clubs in particular » , but it confirms the truth on the ground. “I deplore the anomalies which should no longer exist in France in 2021 for high-level sport. I am really at the bedside of certain players, who are going through dramatic situations. A job for which your physical condition is essential, but in which you are not medically covered, it is difficult to assume …  »

“If we could build a real collective agreement, hand in hand with the social partners, that would be a good start.  » Fabien Safanjon, vice-president of the UNFP

No professional players, federal players

According to the former Montpellier goalkeeper, one of the bases of the problem is the underdevelopment of women’s football in France. “Well-staffed clubs do things in order, clubs that are struggling are those that don’t have enough people to handle all the workload.  » Fabien Safanjon, vice-president of the UNFP, regrets the fact that « The momentum of the 2019 World Cup in France did not allow it to advance any faster and that D1 Arkema remains very heterogeneous on this issue of working conditions » . In her mind, there are many battles to be fought, but the priority relates to the status of high-level players in France. Because contrary to what we often hear, there are no professional footballers in France on a purely legal level. “Those we call professional are in reality on federal contracts. And they therefore depend on the national collective sports agreement. There is nothing there to deal with issues such as maternity, the minimum wage …  » And yet, these players « Federal » are already a social elite, not all of them benefiting from this contractual recognition. “There are works launched, such as the creation of a club license, the development of a status of federal player. If we could build a real collective agreement, hand in hand with the social partners, that would be a good start ” , imagines Safanjon, confident in the overall goodwill of the clubs.

“African or Haitian girls would have been assigned substandard housing when, in the same locker room, quality housing was allocated to European or North American girls.  » Lucy*

« She must not forget where we got her that one »

But for Lucie, even before talking about contractual, contractual or salary improvement, there is a long way to go, if only to obtain simple respect from people, especially foreign players who are from poorer countries. “I have been sent several times accounts of differences in treatment that amount to uninhibited racism. African or Haitian girls for example, who would have been allocated unsanitary housing when, in the same locker room, quality housing was allocated to European or North American girls. One girl reportedly even heard a member of staff say from a complaining teammate: « She mustn’t forget where we got that one from. » It’s free and it’s horrible.  »

Laurent Pioneer does not mention any situation of racism or explicit mistreatment, he nevertheless noted the defects of declarations of certain players with the health insurance. But rather than banging hard on the wrong clubs, he prefers « Focus on dialogue, which until now gives better results » . The high-level women’s football that he imagines in several years, it is an environment “Where we do not quibble on the name of their status, professional, not professional. If girls spend 100% of their time on this activity in exchange for remuneration, they are professional and should be recognized as such. We are talking about simple basic respect for labor law.  »

A small step for social law which would be a qualitative leap for French women’s football, guesses Safanjon. “The stake is the level of our women’s football, the fact of not being left behind by other European countries. For the level of performance to increase, the girls must feel secure on the social, health, financial plan … We are lucky to have a club like Lyon which very quickly showed the way, and which obtained concrete benefits. We must take the opportunity to pull everyone up.  » Lucie admits it, what she sees in Lyon, Paris « Or even in Bordeaux » makes the whole corporation want high level footballers. Because those who are not fortunate enough to exercise in a well-structured club are actually a tightrope all the time. “There is a real topic on the mental health of female footballers, they have to deal with a lot more things than their male counterparts, it’s heavy. Many players fall into depression, it is difficult to find personal satisfaction, gratification, pride in exercising since this practice does not allow them to acquire financial security or social benefit.  » How many Samantha Johnson and how many open letters before French women’s football becomes fully professional?

By Nicolas Jucha
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* the first name has been changed, the person preferring to remain anonymous

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