In war-bat­tered Syria, pay de­mands turn foot­ball into ‘curse’

Arab News - - News Middle East - AFP Da­m­as­cus

Pro­fes­sional foot­ball clubs in war-bat­tered Syria are strug­gling to sign new play­ers, who are de­mand­ing raises to counter the de­cline in the value of their pay pack­ets.

Nine years into a grind­ing civil war, Syria’s econ­omy is in tat­ters, life is in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive, and the na­tional cur­rency is in freefall on the black mar­ket.

The coro­n­avirus pan­demic has com­pounded eco­nomic woes, with foot­ballers forced to play in closed­door sta­di­ums, wip­ing out turn­stile rev­enues.

“Pro­fes­sional foot­ball has be­come a curse,” said Eyad Al-Sibaei, pres­i­dent of Homs city’s Wathba club, run­ners-up in the Syr­ian league last sea­son.

“Play­ers who once played with us for rea­son­able amounts are now de­mand­ing astro­nom­i­cal sums. They say it’s be­cause of the de­val­u­a­tion” of the Syr­ian cur­rency.

The Syr­ian league, which has no for­eign stars, was sus­pended for just one month for Covid-19, and it did not stop dur­ing the war ex­cept at the out­set in 2011.

Play­ers were trans­ferred last year for as lit­tle as 35 mil­lion Syr­ian pounds ($17,500 at the cur­rent black mar­ket rate), but Sibaei said play­ers are now de­mand­ing salaries of up to 60 mil­lion pounds ($30,000) for a sin­gle sea­son.

“Next sea­son, we’ll need be­tween 400 and 500 mil­lion pounds for con­tracts and other ex­penses, know­ing that the club only has around 160 mil­lion in its kitty,” he said.

He said the club spent around 315 mil­lion last year, some of which he had to ad­vance from his own pocket.

Whereas the av­er­age Syr­ian earns be­tween 50,000 and 100,000 pounds ($25-50) a month, an av­er­age pro­fes­sional foot­ball player brings home around 1.5 mil­lion pounds ($750) on a monthly ba­sis. Osama Omri, a player with the Al-Wahda club which fin­ished fifth last sea­son, con­ceded foot­ball play­ers were bet­ter off than the av­er­age Syr­ian.

“The salaries are de­cent and the pur­chas­ing power of some

play­ers is good,” said the 28-yearold at­tack­ing mid­fielder with the Da­m­as­cus club.

“But it’s not enough to se­cure their fu­ture as a player’s life­span on the field is short,” he said, as most play­ers re­tire in their early thir­ties. No for­eign player has been re­cruited since 2012, but to­day’s record de­val­u­a­tion is mak­ing even ac­quir­ing Syr­ian tal­ent tough.

The pound’s value against the US dol­lar has plum­meted in the past year, from around 430 to 1,250 at the of­fi­cial rate, and from around 600 to 2,000 on the black mar­ket. The clubs Jaish and Shorta (army and po­lice in English) are funded by the de­fense and in­te­rior min­istries, re­spec­tively.

But other clubs say the dual eco­nomic-coro­n­avirus cri­sis has de­pleted their cof­fers, and are seek­ing funds else­where to re­cruit be­fore the new sea­son starts in a month.

Reign­ing cham­pi­ons Tishreen, based in the coastal city of Latakia, have signed two new play­ers with funds from spon­sors and club board mem­bers.

Ward Al-Salama, 26, who last year scored in Syria’s 1-0 win against the Philip­pines in World Cup 2022 qual­i­fiers, is mov­ing from Jaish for 50 mil­lion pounds ($25,000).


A goal­keeper dives to make a save dur­ing the Syr­ian league foot­ball match be­tween derby ri­vals Al-It­ti­had (red) and Al-Hur­riya, in Syria’s north­ern city of Aleppo.

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