It is with both excitement and wonder I’m watching the debate in Norway about which football boots the Norwegian players are to use. And it is with great astonishment I listen to all the criticism the Norwegian football players get. What they’re asking of is the just basic labor rights. 7 days vacation, dismissal protection and the right to use the work tool they can work with, meaning football boots. Now, the way I have understood it there is agreement on protection against dismissal and holiday, while the gear conflict has led to strikes.
I understand that the clubs are not willing to give up rights that they make money off, no company is interested in that. But let us look at an example that is a fairly normal situation in today’s football Norway. Players today are normally given a contract that is performance based. That is, the performance has a direct impact on salary, playing time and ultimately the career of the individual player. This is a good arrangement that both clubs and players agree on. But should it be so that the player can not choose the tool he needs to do the job he is set to do?
It is beyond doubt that there are huge differences among the various football boots manufacturers. Most doctors I know in the football world, and there are quite a few, argue that using boots that do not fit directly leads to injuries. At the same time there are huge differences in the boots and everybody has to choose boots based from the type of player he is. What then if your club doesn’t have an agreement with the manufacturer that makes your kind of boots? Considering that this is elite sport in which the details are incredibly important for the end result, there should never be a question of who should decide which boots a player are to use.
What will the sport community in Norway say if Petter Northug, Marit Bjørgen, Therese Johaug or Aksel Lund Svindal had been provided with equipment they do not want or can achieve their best in? Because that it is often the case with football players in Norway, the clubs tells them what boots to wear solely by economic considerations. Football is sport and the athletes are those who have to perform in the end, and then the athletes should not be imposed a tool on that they can’t perform at their best in. Luckily we have NISO to take up the fight for the Norwegian players rights, because in cases like these the clubs are not thinking about players rights.
Yes, I agree and understand that the clubs need all the revenue they can get, and now it’s like that in Norway that the club gets much of its revenue from equipment contracts. But it is not like if the boots part of the equipment contract is removed then the entire economic basis of the clubs collapses. It is nonsense to portray it like without shoes embedded in equipment contract the clubs will lose huge revenues. They will lose some of the revenues and it might give them some other challenges, but boots are a small part of the club’s finances, while it is the most important tool a player has. On the other hand, there are certainly many players who still want to wear the boots from the club’s equipment supplier, and thus it is still possible for clubs to bake boots in parts of the agreement.
And that this will eventually buckle the legs of the Norwegian sports and it will destroy recreational sports is certainly nonsense. To put it this way: if the right to choose boots in Norwegian football is to topple the sport as we know it today, then I strongly urge to change the focus from the boots problem to look at who negotiate these agreements. Because then we have bigger problems than just the right to choose boots.
There is a lot of things we can discuss in football, everything from too much money too bad performances. But we don’t take the skis from I skier, and we certainly do not take away the boots from a football player.
Morten Gamst Pedersen