Referees' strike puts Porto-Benfica in jeopardy

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LISBON, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Portuguese referees will strike over tax hikes next month, putting hundreds of matches at risk of postponement including the November 7 meeting between Premier League leaders Porto and second-placed Benfica.

"An overwhelming number of Portuguese referees will be unavailable during the weekend of November 6 and 7," Luis Guilherme, president of the Portuguese Football Referees Association (APAF), told Reuters on Thursday.

The APAF's action is in protest at changes in Portugal's fiscal laws which from 2011 will make referees pay social welfare contributions even though refereeing is an entirely amateur activity in the country.

"This will have grave consequences for many referees," Guilherme said, adding that the APAF's talks with the government had not resulted in an exemption for match officials.

He added that although the consequences would be felt the most by referees and assistants in the lower leagues, many Portuguese Premier League officials had said they would take part in the walkout in solidarity with their colleagues.

Guilherme said he hoped the government and the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) could still try to resolve the problem before November 6.

The FPF said it was the referees who had refused to reach a deal on the matter.

"It's a subject that is being handled. It has not been resolved yet as there has been opposition from the APAF," FPF secretary-general Angelo Brou told the Record sports daily.

He added that the government had a ruling on the matter ready to be signed and which awaits approval of the state budget in November.

"There are rules, and the referees know that. We believe the matter will be resolved in time," Brou said.