Start of Serie A season postponed

ROME - The start of the Serie A season this weekend was postponed on Friday after the Italian Players' Union (AIC) called a strike following a failure to reach agreement with clubs over a new deal over players' rights.

The Lega Serie A, representing Italy's 20 top-flight clubs, refused to agree to a last-minute proposal from the AIC to sign a one-season deal to avert strike action, prompting the postponement of Saturday and Sunday's fixtures.

"The players' union takes note of the negative response from the Lega of our latest proposal and thereby confirms the intention of not entering the field for the first match of the season," said an AIC statement.

AIC President Damiano Tommasi had earlier on Friday proposed signing a temporary contract along existing lines until June 30 next year while negotiations continued, but clubs' president Maurizio Beretta rejected the last-minute bid.

"Our assembly was clear," Beretta told Italian news service, Ansa, referring to Wednesday's 18-2 vote against signing the AIC's original contract proposal.

"We will only sign an agreement if it contains the two points under discussion - the solidarity contribution and that of training outside the first-team squad."

The two disputed points are over the interpretation of the so-called article seven concerning players who are no longer wanted by their coaches, and who should pay a new austerity tax introduced by the government.

AIC wants all players to be allowed to train with the squad until they reach the end of their contracts while the clubs want autonomy for the coaches.

The move comes after some clubs had separated players from first-team squads following their refusal to sign new deals or transfers in the last year of their contracts.

The clubs want any new agreement to include a clause stipulating that the players must pay the government's recently introduced solidarity tax - on wages over 90,000 euros per year - rather than the clubs.

Italy's non-action on the first weekend follows the postponement of games in Spain last weekend after another dispute between players and clubs though a deal was struck on Thursday ending that dispute.


Without compromise following weeks of deadlock, there is now a possibility that more Serie A fixtures could be postponed.

"I have the distinct impression that 15 days will not be enough. We may need months," said Tommasi. "The Lega is clearly split. They've been saying no for a year and a half. I've even had reproaches from players following this morning's offer.

"The players are disappointed not to be playing but it's not down to a question of finance or because of a whim. For professionals it's just right to begin a season with a signed collective agreement."

Rocco Crimi, Italy's Deputy Minister for Sport, described the strike as a 'defeat' for all.

"For Italians the postponement of the first weekend's fixtures represents the most unusual strike in the country's history," he said.

"We need to leave aside personality confrontations and language that is objectively unacceptable, return to the table and let common sense prevail. The stoppage because of the strike is a defeat for everybody."

Worryingly, Italian Football Federation (FIGC) President Giancarlo Abete, who had proposed setting up a special fund in an attempt to broker a deal on Thursday, said there was a "bitterness" in negotiations.

"There is still the risk for other matches [to be postponed]," he told reporters. "There were all the conditions in place for this not to occur. It's unbelievable we haven't reached an agreement."

Beretta immediately came under fire from Cagliari President Massimo Cellino, who along with Siena had voted to sign the AIC's original agreement.

"The responsibility is all Beretta's," Cellino told reporters. "He has shown himself to be an incapable president and has managed the situation superficially. I no longer recognise Beretta as my president."

The dispute has rumbled on since the end of the 2009/10 season when a previous agreement expired.

Strikes were twice averted at the last minute last season.

Serie A, with dilapidated stadiums, falling attendances and match-fixing scandals, already faced a credibility problem and the strike is the latest blow to the league once considered the world's strongest.