Peruvian players seek widespread reforms

Peruvian players could succeed where the government failed in a bold attempt to force widespread changes in the way soccer is run in their country.

The Players' Union (Safap), desperate to end the worst slump Peruvian soccer has experienced, says that its members will stop accepting national team call-ups unless the federation accepts its proposals for change.

Initially interpreted as an attempt merely to oust Peruvian Football Federation (FPF) President Manuel Burga, the union has shown that its motives go deeper than just a personality clash.

The players have sent the FPF an impressive document that includes a detailed analysis of what they believe is wrong with Peruvian soccer and contains constructive suggestions for solving the problems.

"The union's stance is a good way out," Universitario coach Juan Reynoso told El Comercio. "This is not about getting rid of Manuel Burga, it's about improving the administration of the game and giving Peruvian football a better future.

"There will be casualties but, hopefully, there will be a turning point and we can qualify for a World Cup."

Once considered one of the strongest teams in South America, Peru have not qualified for the World Cup since 1982 and are bottom of the 10-team qualifying group for South Africa in 2010.

Domestic soccer is in a deplorable state.

Players often go weeks without being paid and clubs sometimes struggle to get through the season without pulling out of the league because of financial difficulties.

The Peruvian government has already tried to force change by refusing to recognise Burga, claiming the FPF's elections were not in line with Peruvian law.

But FIFA stepped in, briefly suspending Peru because of government intervention.

The union, which has said that next month's World Cup qualifiers against Ecuador and Colombia will not be affected, has clearly taken a calculated risk in taking up the battle.

Should the FPF refuse to talk before September's matches against Venezuela and Uruguay, Peru could be forced to forfeit the games or, at best, field a youth team.

That could lead to a long-term international ban but players and coaches say it is a chance worth taking.

"I think everyone wants a change, better preparation for the national team," Victor Rivera, coach of Peruvian champions Deportivo San Martin, told reporters. "Everyone wants the clubs to do well."

Former Peru midfielder Roberto Palacios denied the move was unpatriotic.

"We're not turning our backs on Peru," he told the website "On the contrary, we're doing this so that the national team improves and to change the image. We're in last place. We're trying to look for solutions."

The FPF's initial reaction was mixed, threatening sanctions against players who refuse a call-up while saying that it is open to dialogue.

It added that some changes had already been implemented.

In its dossier, the union criticised the Copa Peru, a huge nationwide tournament involving more than 100 teams that rewards the winners with a place in the first division.

It said there was no control over youth team coaches, no competitive youth soccer outside Lima and no soccer schools to develop top-level players.

First division clubs also came under fire while coaches were subject to "tempestuous sackings" by club directors.

"Competitive matches are scheduled at times of extreme heat on artificial pitches without taking into account the health of the players," the document said.

"National and international transfers are not adequately regulated. Rules are not respected and FIFA recommendations are not taken into account."