Imagine going to work for 18 months and not getting paid. Imagine being assured the money will be credited, until one fine day, your employers wound up operations, leaving you stranded. This dystopian reality has hounded players of defunct I-League club DSK Shivajians, a majority of whom have not been paid after helping them to a seventh-place finish in 2016-17.
The Shivajians joined the I-League in 2015-16 as the league's representatives from Pune, after the withdrawal of both Pune FC and Bharat FC following the launch of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014. Every club seeking direct entry needs to pay the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Rs. 3 crore [about US$ 425,000] to field a team directly, with a performance bank guarantee of Rs. 100 crore [ US$ 14 million]. However, AIFF general secretary Kushal Das says Shivajians were exempted from the latter. "The idea was to spend money on football development. DSK had one of the finest academies," Das told ESPN.
Shivajians played two seasons in the I-League, and one of the members of their team management in the first season feels they overspent right at the start. "When I joined them, they were originally supposed to play in the second division and then qualify for the main league," said the official. The team was immune from relegation for three years as a direct entrant to the league. "Then they started spending a lot of money -- getting [Mumbai-based singer] Shaan to do the club song. (They) tried to compete with ISL standards, but there were no payment issues."
A year on, the DSK group -- with interests in real estate and automobile dealerships of brands like Toyota, Benelli -- filed for bankruptcy. The youngest members of the squad were given part of their payments, while others were offered cars and bikes from their showrooms -- a plan that fell through when authorities sealed those showrooms. ESPN reached out to erstwhile officials of the DSK group with questions but received no response.
Indian football clubs have been notorious for dealing poorly with players in matters of contracts and payments, but most agree that such instances belong in the past.
The two Kolkata giants, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have copped flak for tactics like delaying the last one or two payments of a season until the players they want sign a contract extension. Coaches and players also talk of some Goan clubs, which ran short of funds midway through the season, and then the promoters had to dip into their personal finances to compensate.
Former India captain Renedy Singh, also president of the Football Players' Association of India (FPAI), says these issues forced some of the senior players to form FPAI a decade ago. "We were tired of asking for our own payment -- five or eight lakhs [about $ 7000-11000] still remaining at the end of the league -- and we are going and asking the secretary or CEO every single evening," he says. "But now the players don't have to go."
In situations like this, foreign players can go directly to FIFA's Dispute Resolution Chamber, which is what North Korean Kim Song-Yong, Juan Quero of Spain, Bosnian Sasa Kolunija and Shane McFaul of Ireland have done, with McFaul highlighting this case on social media recently.
Hey could everybody read & retweet this please
- ♛ ┌ Shane McFaul ヅ ┐ ♛ (@shaneywaney4) 16 November 2018
Many Indian internationals like Gouramangi Singh, Nirmal Chettri, Sanju Pradhan, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Halicharan Narzary, Jerry Lalrinzuala and Sumeet Passi also turned out for the club, one of them confirming that payments for the 2016-17 season were still pending. "More than the money, the way they have betrayed (is painful). They started with a lot of promises, state-of-the-art facilities, everything. Those that suffer eventually are the players. Salary is a minimum -- even if it is 10,000 or 20,000 rupees -- not getting that is mental harassment," he said.
An FPAI representative told ESPN that the next step is to bring the Dispute Resolution Chamber into Indian football, and this is expected to be one of the points of discussion when FPAI meet AIFF and AFC officials in Kuala Lumpur in early December.
"Somebody should be answerable to the players because they have played for one season and have not got paid. The club has just vanished, so who has the liability?" says the representative.