Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, General Secretary, FIFPro, as Distinguished Guest Online at the Entrepreneurial School®.
Jonas Baer-Hoffmann is head of the greatest unions for professional athletes. Since January 2020 the 32 year old has been General Secretary of FIFpro (English: International Federation of Professional Footballers), which represents more than 65,000 professionals worldwide in 65 member associations. His path led him from German professional basketball players' union Spin and sportsmen's association EU Athletes to his current position and he strives for more decency and dignity of employment in professional football.
Clearly, not every professional football player is a Messi, Ronaldo or Alaba with admirable and luxurious lives - far more the opposite. Baer-Hoffmann’s main challenge is to democratize football from a labor perspective and support low earners, who work at high risk of injury and handle themselves from one short time contract to another. But FIFPro advocacy is more: topics range from traditional contracting to health & safety, competition, match calendars, how much relaxation players get, harassment and more. He emphasizes that the collective power these athletes have is very significant. As sports is a product, its single most important component is the athletes themselves and this is what gives them leverage to negotiate better conditions if they stick together.
Football players train as a team, which allows them to organize collectively more easily than professionals in other disciplines. A simple representation for athletes gives them a voice but no influence. According to Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, having a platform is substantial, but it is also crucial to treat economically self-efficient and popular players differently from low-level athletes, for whom stability or protection is often non-existent. Independent funding could be a step in the right direction. In economically stronger markets the conditions for football players are better, but at some point the correlation breaks and the best markets do not always provide the best conditions. That is why transparency is so important. Agents fulfill a legitimate role, as doing all of the negotiations themselves would be very difficult for football players. But there are many agents who work in their own interest instead of their client’s and that is where FIFPro steps in to support.
However, media still has a massive influence and an enormous impact on how people perceive sports. One good example for Baer-Hoffmann is women’s games in football: the way it is reported about makes it small. Therefore, it is substantial to change the way public broadcasts decide what they put on screen. Stepping in against unfairness and injustice there will have an impact on society as well. Apart from the negative influence media can have, there is also investigative statements, which yet helped to uncover abuses and scandals.
Jonas Baer-Hoffmann is convinced that promoting a social dialogue in sports could help a lot to demystify professional football and at the same time the professional player’s situations. Specific educational programs for athletes with customized schedules could give them occupational and financial security. Academia can therefore support in a pragmatic and most impactful way. This will force decision makers in sports and governments to make improvements and FIFPro will again be one step closer to fairer contracts and wages in professional athlete’s environments.