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Hérita Ilunga: our union will come with proposals to improve Congolese football

6 de agosto de 2021
  • Herita Ilunga is the new president of the player union of DR Congo (UFC)
  • He supported the union since its creation: as a player, as national team captain, and after his playing days as a board member
  • The former Saint-Etienne and West Ham United defender aims to look after players during and after their active careers

Hérita, your initial remarks as president of the UFC were for your predecessors…
It goes without saying that without Bate Sélé Kamango and Jean-Claude Mukanya, we would not be where we are today. With Domo Landu, who retains his role as General Secretary, they conceived and built the UFC, they established it which was not an easy task. The least I could do was to pay tribute to them, it makes sense to keep them with us. We will still need their enlightened advice in the future.

The Management Committee has been largely renewed…
While Domo Landu ensures stability, I will indeed have the pleasure of working with a renewed team to which Youssouf Mulumbu, who is still active, has committed himself with conviction, determined to give of his time and his person in his capacity as vice-president. I am proud of this team, but I now regret that there are no women on it. The two places they were promised on our governing body will remain vacant until our search is successful. I am confident that the UFC will soon succeed in response to the challenge of diversity.

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Herita Ilunga (right) with general secretary Domo Landu (left)

In all FIFPRO member countries in Africa, former top players are involved…
Because we feel the need. We love our countries, we love our football, we love our footballers, both male and female and we want to help them obtain the status and recognition that they are still denied. We are acting not only because we feel the need to help, because we want to see contracts become generalised and being respected and salaries paid regularly.

Education is also one of our objectives. Our young players, both male and female, can no longer make a choice between school and football. It would be dramatic, even shocking, that the majority of African players in the future do not know how to read or write as is unfortunately the case today. The dream that is “sold” to young people too often turns to a nightmare as the number of successes is small: it is not enough to just want it, it is not enough to be talented, it is not even enough to be a hard worker when an injury or an accident can reduce everything you wanted to build to nothing. Without an education, you therefore have no future. You only have regrets. I don’t have a miracle solution, but I can assure you that education is a priority for the UFC. I am particularly attached to this.

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And you don’t mention here those who dream of a career outside the Congo…
This is still another level. I no longer know which great African footballer advancing in Europe one day said: “We are not examples, we are exceptions!” And how true this is! In Africa, we all have examples of young people who have been sold the dream of a career in Europe, now also in Asia, but with no future. The aim for a young Congolese should not be to advance in a minor division in a foreign country.,They need to find reasons to stay in our country, enviable working conditions, infrastructures capable of meeting the demand, stable competitions, not forgetting that they can sign a contract, that they are paid, well regarded… And also that you provide yourself with the means to prepare for your next career as the activity of a professional athlete is not eternal. Your body will eventually catch up with you. I know what I am talking about... Once again, the examples of our elders, totally destitute, should open the eyes of our authorities. To find yourself on the street, when you have been a footballer, sometimes even when you have defended your country's colours, is quite unacceptable. Unworthy, even.

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You think that things will change…
Yes, otherwise why commit oneself as I have done and others are doing. But I do not claim to feel and to state that we will achieve this tomorrow, simply because I have been elected as president of the UFC. It will take time, if only to change mentalities, to have the idea accepted that a player is a salaried employee like any other. If I have ambitions, they are not for me, they are not for the UFC, they are for the Congolese footballers, both male and female. I was trained and I played in France. I saw the weight of the French players’ union, the extraordinary extent to which it represents its members and its closeness to them, its presence within the governing bodies, where decisions affecting the career of the players are taken, its willingness to reinforce education. The UFC does not have the same history – the UNFP is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year – nor obviously the same resources but it is pursuing the same objectives and will take the same paths.

Which ones?
That of a constructive dialogue with the other stakeholders, that with all my strength I call on them to come and sit at the same table with us, as a new wind is blowing through our governing bodies. We must work together because it is not only the footballers of the country who stand to gain, it is our football as a whole. And we will prove it by making the UFC a real force for bringing forward proposals. This is how, and I know it will take time, we will lift up Congolese football. We are a great footballing country, let's prove it together by starting to give the players their rightful place!”