Footballers become scapegoats for the ineptitude and greed of others during coronavirus crisis

Premier League stars lined-up as easy targets for hysterical abuse and hypocritical rhetoric

File photo dated 11-03-2020 of Liverpool's Jordan Henderson. PA Photo. Issue date: Friday April 3, 2020. Premier League captains discussed how best to help support and fund the NHS during the coronavirus crisis at a meeting on Friday, the PA news agency understands. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson helped organise what is a collective, league-wide effort, with the players’ ability to help worthy causes during the escalating situation high on the agenda. See PA story SOCCER Coronavirus. Photo credit should read Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

In happier times, references to 30 per cent in the Premier League could simply have been about the Big Six. In football’s strange new world, now it is the proposed pay cut, whether in the form of a reduced salary or wage deferrals, for players at top-flight clubs.

Stripped of the chance to do what they do best, forfeiting some of their income, they are sharing the pain.

Actually, many have done what they can to alleviate it. The vast number of donations, in the United Kingdom and abroad, supported Gary Lineker’s eloquent theory that footballer “generally speaking, [are] good people with working-class roots and a social conscience.”

Jordan Henderson, seeking to organise the division’s captains to make a contribution to Britain’s National Health Service, is a case in point.

But footballers are also easy targets. On Thursday, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock stated Premier League players “should take a pay cut and play their part.”

This is the same Hancock who, privately, said earlier in the year he was not that worried by Covid-19. He is part of a government that has botched its response to the crisis.

Blaming footballers was a populist diversionary tactic but, in the final reckoning, they are not the reason lives are being lost.

In reality, footballers only make up a small percentage of the 2.5 million millionaires in the UK and, unlike the clubs’ owners, none of the 54 billionaires.

Others should take a financial hit to support the country as well. As ever, different issues have been conflated.

It was disgraceful when Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, both owned by billionaires, abused the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to furlough lower-paid employees, just as Arcadia’s Philip Green and Virgin’s Richard Branson have looked for taxpayer-funded bailouts for their empires.

Meanwhile, predictably, the dismal Gordon Taylor appeared divorced from the reality of life.

The overpaid chief executive of the PFA ought to reduce his own salary to subsidise struggling lower-league players. But the Premier League recognised its wider responsibility to society, donating £20 million (Dh90.1m) to the NHS, and the game, giving £125m to the Football League and the National League.

It was the right thing to do but the finances and the morals are different cases.

If the Premier League resumes behind closed doors, clubs’ revenues will still be reduced but they will not have to repay £750m to broadcasters; excessive as many salaries are, most would still be affordable.

The Championship, a division where wage bills outstrip income and which is more reliant on matchday revenue, has actually had a greater need for pay cuts than the top flight.

For League One and League Two clubs, like county cricket clubs, there is nothing immoral in furloughing players; it is necessary to survive.

But the Premier League’s status meant it assumed a symbolic importance. The demand for a public sacrifice may be satisfied but the reality is the government wants to be able to unlock sectors of the economy to alleviate some of the country’s financial problems.

The Premier League is one of its most high-profile and lucrative industries.

There has been a strange mixture of outrage and puritanism from those wanting every sporting event cancelled and saying it is disrespectful to even talk about when they can be staged.

It is hysterical and hypocritical when virtually every other business – every shop and hotel, every pub and restaurant, every airline and office and factory – will be thinking of and planning for when and how they can return to something approaching normality.

The league’s new mantra is about only coming back when it is “safe and appropriate”. Footballers can be scapegoats, but many of their recent actions have been entirely appropriate.

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