Why Spain’s footballers are right to strike

Strike threats are not that unusual in Spanish football; there have been two in the past eight months.

The first came in December from the Players’ Union (AFE) over salary payment issues for its members. This was followed by a threat at the end of the season from the Spanish League (LFP), which wanted to pressurise the government into a law change making every match in the weekend schedule pay-per-view.

Although both strikes were eventually blocked by the courts, there was always the feeling that the threats were merely point-making bluster from both groups. This is not the case with Thursday’s strike call from the AFE which would postpone the first two rounds of la Liga, on August 20/21 and 27/28, over a dispute with LFP concerning a salary fund to cover the non-payment of players’ wages.

“Clearly this is no small threat, it’s very serious,” admitted Spain’s secretary of sport Albert Soler, who called for dialogue between the two sides to continue. “I can tell you and assure you that we will not play,” confirmed a resolute Iker Casillas after the strike threat was made.

At the moment, there is a serious impasse after three months of talks over a renewed agreement between the two parties. AFE president Luis Rubiales says that the €40m offered by the LFP for a fund to cover the salaries of footballers who are not paid by their clubs is insufficient and that strike action is the only way that this point can be made.

“There won’t be any football until a new deal is signed,” said Rubiales at an announcement where he was flanked by 100 footballers including Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Llorente and Carles Puyol. “We don’t want more money, but that contracts are kept,” said the AFE president, claiming that Spain was “bottom of the pile” in Europe in terms of players’ rights.

LFP president José Luis Astiazarán, who himself lead a strike threat in May, argued that “I don’t understand the reason for the strike; I donr’t think the AFE have reasons at the moment to call it.” Astiazarán claims that up to €70m has been offered to a fund, with €30m for three years retroactively and more for the remaining four years of the agreement.

The response from the AFE was that this is only €40m in real terms and that the debt to footballers in la Liga currently stands at €50m owed to 200 players: “We only want that everyone can enjoy a healthy competition where footballers are treated equally from one team to another.”

It’s a case supported by the fact that six of this year’s Primera sides are in an administration process. Footballers for newly-promoted Rayo Vallecano, for example, are only just starting to receive a chunk of the money owed to them after some players went 14 months without pay.

The LFP argue that there simply isn’t the cash to give the AFE what it demands and that talks must continue. “How can the LFP share what it doesn’t have?” argued the League’s president.

Should the strike go ahead then the action would be devastating to a fixture list which is already stuffed due to midweek league games, Copa Del Rey contests, European fixtures and international matches. It would almost certainly require the cancellation of the Christmas break, something that the AFE would not be in favour of either.

AS call the potential strike “a disaster” while Marca urge caution and warn the AFE that it “must understand that the strike has an impact across all sectors.”

Emilio Pérez de Rozas in Sport laments the mismanagement of Spanish football that sees clubs with a collective debt of €3.5 billion with €694m owed to the tax man. “What’s most amazing is that the head [of the LFP] is the same person who ruined Real Sociedad,” says the Sport columnist on former la Real president Astiazarán, quoting a report by administrators attacking the accounting standards of the club under his presidency. “This gentleman is the man chosen by the clubs to lead Spanish football.”

The strike called by the AFE will undoubtedly cause disruption and disappointment for fans both in Spain and those who planned to travel from abroad to see la Liga. However, the situation is so serious that the footballers have little option. “Year after year, there are a lot of players without pay and promises must be fulfilled,” says Málaga coach Manuel Pellegrini.

The strike’s cause doesn’t concern the likes of Iker Casillas or Carles Puyol, who have given it their whole-hearted backing, so much as their less fortunate colleagues in la Primera – and more especially in the second and third tier of football, where wages, when they actually arrive, are already low.

The wholesale mismanagement of Spanish football and incompetent use of resources should not result in footballers being unable to afford the petrol to get to training – as happened with Rayo Vallecano last season. The strike will probably result in no change in the players’ predicament and could well make the situation worse for many with clubs losing income for that period. But unfortunately, the AFE has no other option left and must see the strike threat through unless its demands are met. 

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