LONDON (AFP) – English Football Association chief Greg Clarke issued a stark warning over the economic carnage caused by the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, calling on players and fans to “share the pain to keep the game alive”.
Clarke’s doomsday scenario came as the head of the union representing Premier League players said they had “agreed to play their part” as pressure mounts to find a collective pay deal.
Just hours after Clarke spoke, the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters admitted the virus fall-out could cost the top-flight “at least £1 billion” ($1.23 billion, 1.13 billion euros).
Appearing at an FA Council meeting, Clarke warned football faces economic challenges “beyond the wildest imagination of those who run it” as a result of the health emergency.
“We face the danger of losing clubs and leagues as finances collapse,” he said. “Many communities could lose the clubs at their heart with little chance of resurrection.”
Clarke called on players, fans, clubs and owners to “step up and share the pain to keep the game alive”, saying even wealthy Premier League clubs were not immune.
Masters’ comments on the potential state of the top-flight’s finances were laid out in a letter to Julian Knight, the chair of the government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.
“We face a £1 billion loss, at least, if we fail to complete season 2019-20, and further losses going forward if the seriousness of the pandemic deepens and extends into the future,” Masters wrote.
“Not only is our industry facing losses now, but to be realistic, we must also base our plans on full recovery being some distance away.
“Ultimately, the very heavy losses that we face will have to be dealt with or else clubs or other enterprises who depend on football for income will go out of business.”
England’s top-flight stars have come under heavy fire over their lack of action, which contrasts sharply with significant pay cuts taken by players at other leading European clubs such as Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
– Collective talks stall –
The Premier League has proposed wage cuts of 30 percent but talks have hit a stumbling block, with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) warning that Britain’s National Health Service could suffer from the loss of tax receipts.
World governing body FIFA has urged players and clubs to reach agreement over wage reductions and players are reportedly set to start negotiations on a club-by-club basis.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock was among senior politicians calling for players to take a cut and “play their part”, a call that sparked angry reactions from former players.
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor told the BBC that the players had agreed to do their bit, adding they were “responsible enough” to know wages were a factor in any club’s expenditure.
“We’ve been consistent with what we’ve said from the beginning and the fact is the players feel quite aggrieved that the Secretary of State for Health should put them in a corner without looking,” he said.
But he repeated concerns that public coffers would be hit as a result of the deal proposed by the Premier League.
Taylor, 75, is reportedly not taking a cut to his own £2 million annual salary.
“The PFA will make donations and the PFA is involved in the players’ charity,” Taylor told the Guardian when asked if he would accept a reduction in salary.
– Spurs under pressure –
Tottenham have come under pressure from fans to follow Liverpool in reversing their decision to use public money to pay employees.
Liverpool, the European champions and the world’s seventh richest club, ditched their controversial plan to furlough some of their non-playing staff during the virus on Monday after coming under intense pressure from ex-players and fans.
Newcastle, Norwich and Bournemouth are the other Premier League clubs to have announced plans to use the government’s furlough scheme.
Meanwhile, FIFA said “it is proposed that (player) contracts be extended until such time that the season does actually end”, while deals due to come into force in the next campaign would be “delayed until the next season actually does start”.
FIFA will also “be flexible and allow the relevant transfer windows to be moved so they fall between the end of the old season and the start of the new season”.