The Professional Footballers’ Association, the union representing English Premier League footballers, has warned of a £200 million (S$353 million) shortfall for British government coffers if a sweeping cut in wages is introduced to offset the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past few days, clubs and players’ representatives have been in talks over a combination of pay cuts and deferrals amounting to 30 percent of their annual salary.

However, an agreement has yet to be reached, with the Athletic yesterday reporting that most players will only accept a deferral in wages.

The sports website also said another sticking point is an unwillingness to take on extra media duties.

Clubs have asked their players to fulfil more off-field commitments to give rights holders content in the absence of games – something that they are reluctant to do “out of principle”, especially if wage cuts or deferrals are imposed.

The PFA also feels it is far too simplistic to lambast multi-millionaire footballers for not agreeing to sacrifice their pay.

The proposed 30 per cent salary deduction over a 12-month period equates to over £500 million in wage reductions and a loss in tax contributions of over £200 million to the government.

“What effect does this loss of earning to the government mean for the National Health Service (NHS)?” the PFA said in a statement. “All Premier League players want to, and will, play their part in making significant financial contributions in these unprecedented times.

“We welcomed the opportunity to discuss this with the Premier League and we are happy to continue talks.”

The highly charged issue will continue to take centre stage even as Britain grapples with Covid-19 after Liverpool on Saturday night became the latest club to put some of their non-playing staff on furlough.

The decision by the Premier League leaders, who are just two wins shy of their first English title in 30 years and in February announced pre-tax profits of £42 million in the 2018-19 season, has drawn heavy criticism from former Anfield favourites.

Under the scheme, which Newcastle, Tottenham, Bournemouth and Norwich have already signed up for, the British government will pay 80 per cent of wages, but some of Liverpool’s former stalwarts have been left far from impressed.

“(Manager) Jurgen Klopp showed compassion for all at the start of this pandemic… Then all that respect and goodwill is lost, poor this,” tweeted former defender Jamie Carragher. His former teammate Dietmar Hamann called the decision “contrary to the morals and values of the club”.

“Astonished by the news Liverpool takes advantage of the furlough scheme,” he tweeted. “That’s not what it was designed for.”

While British society debates over Premier League clubs and players not showing enough empathy with the less privileged, Wayne Rooney yesterday stood up for his fellow professionals, insisting they were “easy targets”.

There have been multiple reports of footballers like Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson giving back to society, while England manager Gareth Southgate has also reportedly taken a 30 per cent pay cut.

On helping out the less fortunate, Rooney, the former England captain and Manchester United striker, said he had both the means and will to make financial contributions, but felt the public pressure being exerted on his peers was unhelpful.

“If the government approached me to help support nurses financially or to buy ventilators, I’d be proud to do so – as long as I knew where the money was going,” he wrote in The Times of London.

“I’m in a place where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position… Why are we suddenly the scapegoats?

“How the past few days have played out is a disgrace. In my opinion, it is now a no-win situation.”

Pundit Gary Lineker agreed with Rooney, claiming footballers were being “picked on”. He told the BBC: “Nobody seems to talk about the bankers, the chief executive officers, huge millionaires. Are they standing up? Are they being asked to stand up? We don’t know.”

AFP, Reuters

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