Spanish players criticize league’s call for furloughs

Sports

A man is pushed in the wheelchair while wearing protective masks near Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Friday, March 13, 2020. Real Madrid have said its players were being placed in isolation after one of the club’s basketball players, who share facilities with Madrid’s soccer players, tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. That led to the instant decision by the Spanish league to bring matches to a halt for the next two rounds. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Paul White)

MADRID (AP) — Soccer players in Spain on Sunday criticized the Spanish league’s decision to ask clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs during the coronavirus crisis.

The league on Friday said the furloughs were needed because there was no agreement on the size of the salary cuts that players must take to reduce the financial impact of the pandemic.

“It is strange that the Liga supports (the furloughs),” Spain’s players’ association said in a statement.

It said the league should have created a financial cushion for this period considering it had always boasted about its “economic control measures” and the “well-balanced economy” of the Spanish clubs. The association said it also should be taken into account that the league has been temporarily suspended and not yet canceled.

The league and the players’ association have been in talks to try to find ways to mitigate losses that could reach nearly 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) if the season cannot be restarted because of the pandemic.

The players said they agree with a salary reduction to help the clubs during the crisis, but not to the extent the league wants, which could amount to nearly half of the total losses if the competition is not resumed.

Players said they want to keep negotiating directly with the clubs instead of being forced into furloughs.

“The clubs and the players have been reaching agreements regarding the salaries,” the players’ association said. “What footballers are not going to do is relinquish labor rights.”

Barcelona and Atlético Madrid are among the Spanish clubs requesting furloughs, but both directly negotiated the amount of the salary reduction with players — 70% in both cases. Both clubs and their players are contributing to guarantee the wages of non-playing employees being furloughed.

Spanish media said Espanyol on Sunday became one of the first teams to have the furlough request approved.

The Spanish league said it expects such agreements — furloughs or individual deals between clubs and players — to cover the vast majority of professional football in Spain. It said they “will ensure that the industry suffers a minor blow in this health crisis that also brings an economic crisis.”

The league said Friday the furlough was “an exceptional mechanism to avoid and mitigate the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector, and thus guarantee its subsequent recovery.” It said it is responsible for preserving a sector that represents 1.37% of Spain’s gross domestic product and employs about 185,000 people.

The league had said clubs and players were far apart on the proposed salary cuts. The reductions being discussed reportedly varied depending on the clubs, and also on whether they were playing in the Champions League or the Europa League.

The government furloughs help reduce the clubs’ labor costs while also guaranteeing players their jobs once the crisis is over.

Spain has more than 130,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with nearly 12,500 deaths. The nation is expected to remain in lockdown until April 26.

There is no timetable for the return of the Spanish league.

Players maintained their position to only resume competing when health authorities deem it safe for everyone’s heath, a view also shared by the Spanish league.

“We’ve met with all the captains of the teams in the first and second divisions and the message is clear: Health is more important than anything else,” said David Aganzo, president of Spain’s players’ association. “They demand maximum security for themselves, for their families and for everyone else in the world of sports.”

The league has reportedly suggested it will recommend teams resume training while the lockdown is still in place, if it’s possible to do so within the restrictions imposed by authorities.

Barcelona has a two-point lead over Real Madrid after 27 of the 38 rounds.

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