MILAN - Italy's footballers have been labelled spoiled by a right-wing minister as a row over who should pay a new tax added to an existing strike threat over players' rights.
The Italian Players' Union (AIC) reacted quickly, describing the comments as "nonsense" with no hint yet that a resolution will be found to avert the strike before the start of the Serie A campaign on the weekend of August 27-28.
Earlier this month, the AIC said the new season would not get under way until a new collective agreement had been signed, guaranteeing players' rights.
But there is now further disagreement over the so-called solidarity contribution, a temporary tax which is being levied on Italians who earn over 90,000 euros a year and was announced by the government on August 13.
Players and the clubs want each other to pay.
Cabinet Minister Roberto Calderoli said on Wednesday: "If this spoiled class continues with their threat to strike, I propose that, like politicians, they double their solidarity contributions.
"I don't know if the solidarity contributions are fair or not, but if anyone should pay them, it's the players."
Calderoli has previously proposed a salary cap for players and on the eve of the 2010 World Cup suggested the Italy squad should forfeit their bonuses if they won. In the event, Italy went out in the first round.
AIC vice-president Leonardo Grosso responded: "It's nonsense to say the players are spoiled.
"It has to be remembered that while some players earn a lot, there are just as many who earn modest amounts and are not paid at frequent intervals."
AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani said the players should cough up.
"It's a tax which concerns all workers and the footballers are no exception," he told Sky Sport 24.
"We should contribute everything we can to save the country and so will the players who earn so much."
His sentiments were echoed by outspoken Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini. "The solidarity contribution? The players will pay it," he said.
The row over collective rights has dragged on since the end of the 2009/10 season and strikes were twice narrowly averted last term as negotiations stalled.
The AIC is especially unhappy about clubs trying to force players to move in the last year of their contracts and players who are no longer wanted by their clubs being forced to train separately.
Ten days ago, the captains of the 20 Serie A teams increased the pressure as they signed an open letter demanding that the dispute be resolved.comments