MADRID - The first players' strike in
nearly three decades is damaging Spain's status as world
champions, will shake confidence in its institutions and risks
Talks between the players union (AFE), which last week
called the strike for the first two rounds of matches in the top
two divisions, and the professional football league (LFP), which
represents the 42 clubs affected, failed to prevent the action.
European champions Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two
richest clubs by revenue in the world, had been due to start
their campaigns on Sunday.
Talks are now centred on preventing the second round of
matches being halted which would create serious problems in the
At the heart of the dispute is the union's demand that an
emergency fund be set up to cover wages that have not been paid
to players at clubs that have gone into financial
The union says around 50 million euros is owed
to 200 footballers from the end of last season, and the league's
proposed 40 million euro fund is not enough to cover a growing
"We have the best football in the world, but it is run very
badly. The league has failed to control the situation with the
clubs," Jose Maria Gay, an accounts professor at Barcelona
University, told Reuters.
"Winning Euro 2008 and the World Cup earned Spain a great
deal of goodwill, it helped open doors for us. But a strike
because we can't pay our players will generate a lack of
confidence in Spain as a whole.
"It would be a good time to use the situation to restructure
Spanish football. It can't carry on as it is. They need to get
out of the clouds and back down to earth."
A recent study published by Gay, an expert in football finances, showed the 20 clubs in La Liga made a combined net
loss of some 100 million euros in the year to the end of June
The total debt stood at 3.43 billion euros, more than double
revenue of 1.61 billion.
Spain has been hit hard by the world economic crisis, is
suffering from unemployment levels of more than 20 percent, and
an increasing number of debt-laden clubs have sought protection
from creditors by going into administration.
Six sides in the Spanish top flight have already taken this
route, and in the second division more than half the clubs have
Once a club is in administration, Spanish law can override
competition rules that could lead to a club being relegated for
failing to honour commitments such paying their players.
Analysts say the rules surrounding the "Ley Concursal"
process have been used as an easy way for clubs to get out of
their predicament, to preserve their league status, and to allow
them to continue pursuing their irresponsible practices.
The players are seen to have genuine grievances, but the
high profile support from individuals such as Spain
internationals Iker Casillas of Real Madrid and Carles Puyol of
Barcelona has drawn criticism as well.
"They have no shame," Getafe president Angel Torres told
sports daily Marca.
"If they are showing so much solidarity, why don't they help
pay. If they are on strike, why are they still training?" he
added, as many of the bigger clubs continued to train despite
the four-day strike call.
"If they are going to make the strike indefinite, they won't
be paid anything and they will have to go and join the queue to
draw unemployment benefit like five million Spaniards already
The strike also drew criticism from the Association of
Spanish supporters clubs (AFEPE), which represents around one
It said it was tired of being continually overlooked in
decisions affecting Spanish football.
The strike is added to long-standing grievances such as the
short notice given for when matches are to be played in Spain -
typically 10 days - and new kick-off times such as 10pm on a
Sunday to try to woo Asian television viewers.
WHY CALL A STRIKE?
"Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, that's what's needed," AFEPE
secretary general Pepe Hidaldo told Reuters.
"The AFE say they have 80 percent agreement, then why call a
strike for only a 20 percent difference? The league was to start
earlier this year in August, during the holiday season. Many
fans have arranged their holidays around going to see their
"Once again the ones who lose out are the fans. We have
spoken to the supporters clubs about the possibility of
organising protests against the players when they come out for
their first games of the season."
A Spanish consumer rights organisation, FACUA, recommended
fans go to the clubs if they are left out of pocket by the
In a statement FACUA said fans should demand reimbursement
not only for matchday tickets they were unable to use, but also
for cancelled or changed transport arrangements and
accommodation costs which were not redeemable directly.
Talks between the league and the union are to continue, with
time of the essence.
The league cannot be extended past the current end date of
May 13 due to the time given over to national teams to prepare
for next June's Euro 2012 tournament, and available dates to
reschedule matches are few and far between.
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