Juan Flores: "I've been a footballer for 14 years and now I can't work because of my age"

Juan Flores: "I've been a footballer for 14 years and now I can't work because of my age"

  • Guatemala's football federation imposed an age limit for professional footballers
  • Only three players over the age of 35 can play in the second tier; third tier has also suffered limitations
  • Juan Flores, 36, is one of those affected: "We see this as discrimination"

In mid-July, the careers of several Guatemalan footballers came to an abrupt and arbitrary end. What for them was to be the start of a new season resulted in an unprecedented situation: the Guatemalan federation imposed an age limit for professional practice.

From the 2022/23 season, FEDEFUT decided that in the Primera Division (second tier) only three players over the age of 35 would be allowed to play per club, while in the Segunda (third tier), the age limit was set at 27 – with an exception made for three players up to the age of 32.

The measure is in addition to another one taken at the start of the 2021/22 season: a wage cap, in the Primera Division, where the maximum monthly salary per player was set at 10,000 quetzales (around 1,300 euros).

Both situations combined affect the livelihood of entire families and prompted SIFUPGUA, the Guatemalan union, to take action, accompanying the players to file complaints with the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office "for discrimination and for violating constitutional rights".

Sindicato de Futbolistas Profesionales de Guatemala
• Division: Americas
• Established: 2011
• FIFPRO Member since: 2014
• Website: sifupgua.com.gt

Juan Flores, a 36-year-old defender, was in pre-season training with his team, Sanarate, when the measure was officially announced.

He said: “I had to take a step back in this situation. I've been a footballer for 14 years and now I can't work because of my age. We can't work. There are still only a few of us affected but this is going to have a domino effect. In the future, more and more players will be left out every year.”

How do you see the situation?
Juan Flores: We have been forbidden the right to work because of an age limit and we see this as discrimination. In Guatemala, the constitution demands the right to equality, to work regardless of gender, sex or age. But here in football, we have already been pushed aside and it is unfair. We depend on this; our families depend on this. We have simply been cast aside without any regard for the fact that beyond the footballer there are parents, children, siblings. We are members of a society and we have many responsibilities. We are the breadwinners for our families.

What is the Federation's reason for taking this measure?
They withdrew us because they felt like it, without any real basis. In 2021, there was a salary cap. Then our income was already capped. Now supposedly the justification for the limitation is that we have to make way for other generations, to give more opportunities to young people. My eldest son is 17 years old, he's in a youth team of a big club here in Guatemala, but he only trains. They don't organise tournaments for those categories. They limit the age but they don't have any processes, it's contradictory. In Guatemala a player is consolidated at 23 or 24 years of age because there is no work in the grassroots football teams. And from now on you can only play in the third category until you are 27. It is a contradiction.

What kind of help are you getting from the union?
They have been with us from the beginning. They follow us up, support us and handle our complaints. It is our only real, concrete and solid weapon because, if I'm going to fight like Juan Flores, I'm practically going to the desert on my own without water. The union is the force that we need, the one that studies everything to see in which way it can formulate demands so that this can change. Because it is also said that next year they want to lower the limit even more.

How is the situation affecting you personally?
This week I'm going to start working as an Uber driver because I need to make money. I have three children, I'm married and I'm paying a long-term mortgage on my house. I was playing in a tournament as an amateur and was earning some money but I injured my knee and I can't go to those games anymore. I go to therapy at SIFUPGUA, but obviously I don't have any health insurance anymore. If you get injured while you are in a club, they are in charge, there is your salary, there are the therapies, and there is the recovery, which is also faster with better care.

Are you optimistic that the problem will be solved?
I am not sure. I have expectations but I have no illusions that it will happen soon, at least not for me. We filed a complaint a month ago and we haven't had a response. It has either been filed or it hasn't been dealt with. We are quite slow to execute things a lot of the time. Maybe for the government this is not their field, right? So, they are not concerned, they don't see us as an active part. Maybe they say, “Oh, they are footballers”. And that's why we invoice every time we are paid, but we don't have any pension or retirement fund from the government. [Note: in Guatemala, footballers are not considered employees]. At the moment I don't see any solution, but I hope that the help we have from the union will obtain a positive result.