Scott Stinson: Football players in England had just asked for a big pay cut. Will the athletes be next?


Even at a time when it seems like every day brings new surprises from someone on a podium, it would be something to see the federal Minister of Health, Patty Hadju, stand up and say that Connor McDavid and Carey Price should take a pay cut to help fight the coronavirus.

But something not far has happened in the UK, where some members of parliament, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, have suggested that players in the Premier League, the largest football division in England, should see their wages reduced while this country struggles with the economic and public health fallout from the COVID-19 epidemic.

“Given the sacrifices many people make, the first thing Premier League players can do is make a contribution,” Hancock said at a press conference on Thursday. “Take a pay cut and play their part,” said the minister.

On Friday, the 20 Premier League clubs agreed, deciding to ask players to cut their annual wages by 30% to help the league provide financial aid to England’s lower-level football divisions, as well as a financial support to the Federal Ministry of Health.

In North America, it has not been suggested, at least on behalf of anyone in a position of influence, that well-paid professional athletes should be forced to do financial harm to the public good. At least not yet. But could we head in this direction?

The situations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are certainly not apples to apples. The UK is offering wage subsidies to private companies during this economic close time, similar to that offered by the federal government in Canada, and at least four Premier League clubs – Tottenham, Bournemouth, Norwich City and Newcastle – have stated that ‘They would take advantage of the program to pay club staff who do not play. Some politicians have found this inappropriate, complaining that wealthy clubs should not use public money to pay for housekeeping staff and cafeteria workers without affecting their players’ salaries. Tottenham striker Harry Kane earns around $ 17 million a year, for example. Or at least he did, pending further negotiations between the Premier League clubs and his players’ association.

What is striking about the situation in Europe, where other big clubs like Barcelona, ​​Juventus and Atletico Madrid have also agreed to freeze or reduce their players’ salaries, is that there is an obvious feeling that players should supplement the wages of non-players. personal, even when the clubs themselves have generated vast revenues for many years. The problem with players is that they are both rich and visible; it is easier to point the finger at Lionel Messi than to point the finger at Barcelona’s results.
In North America, while a few teams like the Boston Bruins cut their payroll or laid off workers during the pandemic, most said they would cover staff salaries on match day, although some d ‘between them must have been publicly ashamed to do so.

TD Garden, the venue for the Boston Bruins and the Boston Celtics on March 12, 2020.

Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

But everything happens as if the big assessment was to come. These promises to pay staff, and at the same time leave players’ salaries unchanged, were made in the early days of the sports shutdown, when there was still much optimism about the break.

This optimism has been greatly depressed, and even the best storylines imagine many losing games and tough playoff sprints. League offices know their 2020 seasons are now at risk. What happens when a few weeks of missed games become several months of lost revenue? Will teams in Canada and the United States still want to cover the wages of staff at the hourly wages that do not work hours? Will they turn to their athletes to help cushion the blow?

So far, the discussion and debate around North American sports teams has focused mainly on the legality of whether clubs can refuse to pay wages for games that don’t happen, and how all lost income will affect the salary cap and luxury tax. projections for their next seasons. These problems could be solved together: the players concede wages lost this season in exchange for protections that the salary ceilings will not crater next year. These discussions will become more and more urgent as the days go by, especially as cases of coronavirus here and in the United States continue to increase.

The 20 Premier League clubs have agreed to ask players to cut their annual salaries by 30% to help the league directly fund the COVID-19 epidemic.

Phil Noble / Reuters

But at some point, there will be questions about covering workers’ wages in the midst of radically changed seasons. Will it come from well-paid teams, governments, colleagues who take the field?

The situation in the United Kingdom provides an overview. The Premier League said on Friday that its clubs would donate the equivalent of around $ 35 million to UK health services and some “vulnerable” communities. The player pay cuts would cover part of that. Some players have said they don’t want to give up their wages if they end up going back to the club owners. Others have noted that the problem of an underfunded health service is a strange thing to expect from football players. On this point: Well, yes. How many well-paid executives who fill the London office towers will avoid public shame as anger is directed towards the midfielders and the backs?

But players probably know that it’s a fight they can’t win. They will take their cuts. Players from this continent’s leagues should take note.

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