Argentina season suspended due to debts

BUENOS AIRES - The kick-off to the Argentine domestic season was put on hold indefinitely on Tuesday, while the game's national governing body sought a solution to clubs' massive debts. Bussed-in protesters also attacked the Argentina Football Association (AFA) headquarters, smashing windows and demanding the resignation of AFA president Julio Grondona. "The executive committee of the AFA resolved unanimously tonight (Tuesday) that the championships in all categories should not start on the scheduled dates," a statement posted on the AFA website said. The first division Apertura championship, which is played between August and December in the first half of the season, had been scheduled to kick off on Friday, August 14. Argentine teams' participation in the Copa Sudamericana, the continent's equivalent of the Europa League which starts this week, would not be affected, nor would Diego Maradona's national team who have a friendly against Russia in Moscow next week. The statement said the AFA needed to search for a proper and well-founded solution to the problem of clubs' debts. Grondona, also world body FIFA's senior vice-president, held talks with the government's chief tax officer, Ricardo Echegaray, and Sergio Marchi, secretary general of the players' union, Futbolistas Argentinos Agremiados (FAA) to try to resolve the debt issue. While leaving the talks, Grondona said an increase in fees for television rights to matches would help ease clubs' debts. "For me the solution is for the AFA to receive more money from the revenue of the television (rights)," he told reporters. A few hours after the talks, Grondona was the target of a demonstration outside his offices. The AFA headquarters in central Buenos Aires were attacked by about 100 people who arrived in two buses, threw stones at the building breaking windows, and shouted insults at Grondona. They painted "Julio Grondona thief" on the wall and handed out leaflets saying "Grondona, liar and traitor ... resign now" before police dispersed the demonstrators, who did not appear to have allegiance with any football club or organisation. BIG DEBTORS Some of Argentina's biggest and most successful clubs are among the major debtors, including former South American champions River Plate, Racing Club and Independiente. Sources close to the tax authorities say clubs owe the government 300 million Argentine pesos, on top of debts to the AFA and, to a lesser extent, their own players. On Monday, the AFA asked that the fee TV companies pay for match rights for this season be revised up to 720 million pesos from the 268 million pesos originally agreed. Local media reported that the TV companies were considering a counter-proposal that included a contract extension with the AFA from the present 2014 expiry date to 2020 and advance payments to clubs to cover their current debts. Marchi said some well-run clubs, notably newly-crowned South American champions Estudiantes and Argentine Clausura title winners Velez Sarsfield, were paying for mistakes made by directors of poorly run clubs. "I hope the AFA follows it's own rules and sanctions those (directors) who don't meet their obligations," Marchi said. "The (Argentine) game is poorly commercialised, it's obsolete ... There are problems of infrastructure, the bathrooms of some clubs look like Kosovo," he told reporters.