Uruguayan players strike over unpaid wages

MONTEVIDEO - Uruguayan players have gone on strike over unpaid wages and bonuses, forcing this week's midweek league matches to be called off.

"The clubs are being given until Friday afternoon to pay the debt," players union president Enrique Saravia said in a radio interview.

"If it's paid the championship will restart at the weekend."

The 2008-09 championship has already been suspended twice because of crowd violence and security problems.

Uruguayan media said Nacional, one of the country's biggest clubs, owed around $160,000 to their players and arch-rivals Penarol owed around $50,000.

Villa Espanola were barred from playing in the second stage of the championship, which started 10 days ago, because they owed around $50,000 to players.

Uruguay was once a major power in international soccer, staging and winning the inaugural World Cup in 1930. The national team also won another World Cup in 1950 and the Olympic soccer tournament in 1924 and 1928.

In the last two decades the country has been hit by a mass exodus of players abroad and the 30 professional clubs struggle to survive on meagre incomes.

Many first division matches are played in front of only a couple of thousand fans in stadiums which resemble European non-league grounds.

In 2005 modest Rocha, who share their training ground with a herd of cattle, reached the final of the championship.