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Playing political football over player’s wages at a time of crisis is a cheap shot to make

Football and politics don’t mix so well. The beautiful game has often been in the cross hairs of elected officials with an agenda to the peddle and a point to prove. Now, as the world grapples with a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of thousands, the government has taken the opportunity to convert an open goal chance at putting the boot into well paid Premier League footballers.

At a time of crisis, when many have lost jobs and front line health workers have been left dangerously unequipped to do battle with a virulent disease, Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee in Britain, has said Premier League clubs are currently in a “moral vacuum”. He was referring to the decision by some clubs who have furloughed non-playing staff members, going cap in hand to the government for aid at a time of unprecedented wealth in the game.

Football players have subsequently bore the brunt of public ire, with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan queuing up to stick his oar in and demand that the game’s best-paid stars “carry the burden” and take pay cuts.

Morally speaking of course, the argument is sound. It is not palatable for most to see Premier League chiefs and players sitting on their hands and expecting a tax funded government fund to bail out the lesser paid members of their organizations. Footballers earn thousands, in a lot of cases, hundreds of thousands of pound per week and should comfortably be able to afford to take a hit, even for a month or so, in order to help fund the wages of non-playing staff during a time of economic hardship.

Keyboard warriors and politicians admonishing footballers for their perceived sluggishness in stepping forward to take a pay cut is a rather cheap point to score though; and also dumps a heap of responsibility at the doorsteps of those not always in total control of proceedings.

First and foremost, the Players Football Association, had requested all footballers to defer any decisions on wage reductions until further communication with the powerful union was possible. While it may be a convenient shield for the players, you have to acknowledge the gravity of such a request, no matter how noble any player may have wanted to be. Unilateral action was clearly widely discouraged at a time when the wider situation during the Covid-19 crisis is changing almost hourly.

Footballers have been targeted to yield their wages at a time of crisis when there a plethora of other, highly paid public figures and sports stars who have done little to step forward and do the same. Indeed, Jordan Henderson has recently approached other club captains from the Premier League to discuss them putting their own money towards an NHS relief scheme. Clubs have also begun consultation with players over a 30% pay cut to help protect jobs in the long run. Actions are being taken, albeit too slowly for some.

Yes, they are only small steps and some will continue to argue with frequency and noise, that it is only right for players to give up their money to charitable schemes or to keep lesser paid employees in a job. However, chief executives opting into the government furlough initiative is not the call of footballers on the payroll. It simply not their responsibility. They have little say over what happens at board room level and while they may have been slow to come forward thus far, to back them into a corner and use their wages to score populist political points seems a little cheap.

Nor should the playing staff be tarred with the same brush reserved for stupendously wealthy club owners who, in some cases, have opted to take advantage of a government scheme, when they could likely use their own reserves to fund staff wages, despite frequent declarations to the contrary about cash flow or availability of funds.

However, it would be quite wrong to paint footballers as victims in all of this. Some such as Jack Grealish and Dele Alli have let themselves down badly during the crisis, but there have been plenty of good things done by players across the globe which has gone unheralded. Mesut Ozil’s BigShoe charity has paid for dozens of unprivileged children to undergo live saving operations in some of the poorest regions of Brazil. Cristiano Ronaldo has used his own money to help pay for a cancer centre in his native Portugal. Many others are involved in their own academies and community schemes that do a lot of good.

Football is often referred to as the most important of the all the unimportant things in the world. At a time of global catastrophe and suffering, the sport has rightly taken a back seat. For five Premier League clubs to have so quickly furloughed their staff is very poor form indeed, but the blame and ire should be reserved for those who make such calls in the first place.

Politicians should have much more important things to focus on right now. Football can help in the healing process after the nightmare that is the Covid-19 pandemic subsides. For now, demonizing footballers for the money they earn and what they do or don’t do with it, should be bottom on the list of global or national priorities.

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