The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a halt, including football. As stadiums are empty and fans as well as players are confined to their homes, a new debate has heated up – should Premier League footballers take pay cuts? Or are they being made scapegoats in a bid to divert attention on the government’s mismanagement of the global crisis?
Coronavirus vs Premier League: Virus vs multi-billion dollar sport
The world’s most glamorous sport has been brought to its knees by the coronavirus. With the season being suspended, the COVID-19 is expected to cost the league a potential loss of US$1.41 billion. With the United Kingdom being one of the worst-hit countries, calls have been made by the government for Premier League footballers to take pay cuts.
Health secretary Matt Hancock insisted players should “play their part” by reducing their lucrative salaries. The Premier League and clubs then responded by publicly requesting players to sacrifice a maximum of 30% of their wages for the next 12 months, with the situation would also be reviewed every four weeks.
The UK government has also rolled out a furlough scheme to help clubs and the public to survive this pandemic. Companies and clubs can now temporarily lay off their staff rather than firing them, with the government stepping in to pay up to 80% of the employees salary – a scheme that was initially taken by the current league leaders, Liverpool.
But the club withdrew their claim, following heavy criticism by former players, pundits and fans. With the scheme supposedly meant for smaller businesses to survive, why would the current European champions who made a pre-tax profit of US$52 million in 2019 and a turnover of US$660 million and spent US$276 million on new signings, consider furloughing in the first place?
However, the same can’t be said for the league’s smaller teams. Burnley chairman Mike Garlick said smaller Premier League clubs could go bankrupt if they were forced to pay back television broadcasting money if the season can’t be completed. Garlick told Sky Sports Burnley would run out of money by August if football did not resume.
Should Premier League footballers take pay cuts to help clubs survive?
The calls for all players to take reduced wages was heavily opposed by many, including Wayne Rooney. Writing in the Sunday Times in response to Hancock’s comments which has put the whole profession on the spot with 30% pay cut demands, the former Manchester United striker criticised the government and Premier League for putting footballers in a “no-win situation” over the issue of pay cuts.
Rooney also claimed players were lined up as “easy targets”. He added that he’d be willing to support the healthcare system and provide donations, as long as he’d be aware of where the money was going. The Derby County player was also open to a necessary pay cut if push comes to shove for the club’s survival, but he questioned the Premier League’s decision to go public with their own proposals before talks with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and players.
Another reason behind the PFA’s reluctance to accept 30% pay cuts lies in the reduced tax collected by the government. “The proposed 30% salary deduction over a 12-month period equates to over US$619 million in wage reductions and a loss in tax contributions of over US$247 million to the government,” said the PFA.
Instead, the players banded together and announced an initiative to donate funds to National Health Service charities in an effort to fight the Covid-19 outbreak. A collective of players confirmed the launch of the “Players Together” initiative, which will “quickly grant funds to the NHS frontline.
So is there a solution to keep all Premier League clubs financially stable?
Most top flight clubs should have enough financial reserves to survive this crisis. However, concerns raised by Burley’s chairman are also extremely valid, especially when you consider the unequal wealth distribution of England’s top league. So should Premier League footballers take pay cuts to help clubs survive?
Yes. But it has to be an agreement from both parties, like in the case of Barcelona and Juventus, along with appropriate measures in place to protect the players once the business resumes as usual. The league publicly demanding reduced wages and a health secretary openly criticising professional athletes are perhaps not the best way to go about this.
Source: The Guardian, Sunday Times, ABC News, Wired