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Italian Football Players: Defending The Right To Say “No”

September 17, 2010

As soon as I heard about the planned strike conducted by Italian Football players, thoughts started to race through my head about what familiar refrains would be used to try delegitimise them and their actions. Obviously, there would be the stock standard “millionaires complaining about their conditions,” but it seems as if the players are “hell-bent” on destroying Italian Football, according to the Yahoo Sports football blogger Brooks Peck.

The article itself is a perfect example of how sports journalist can miss the point when it comes to strike actions by sportspeople. Firstly, it drips with a familiar faux-populism, in that it mocks the idea that somehow “rights” are involved in the dispute and uses the sentence “Oh, sweet Lady Justice, how could you abandon these fabulously compensated athletes? How?!”

The point is as subtle as blowtorch, these rich bastards are complaining when they receive so much money, they are ungrateful, spoiled brats, who don’t know how good they’ve got it. But a few points need to be cleared up.

The players have never compared themselves to Cambodian sweatshop workers, nor are they proposing reducing anyone else’s wages or rights at their expense. The writer wants us to believe that unless players conditions are reduced to sweatshop levels, they have no place complaining. Just shut up and play.

This sentiment was also used by Serie A president Maurizio Beretta who said, “It’s a terrible sign for all the other categories in this country facing very serious economic problems.” But hold on, the wage levels of the football players isn’t the cause of the “serious economic problems”, nor will the dispute improve or reduce the living standards of those facing economic problems. This sentiment is also unbelievably hypocritical when the proposal that the players are willing to strike over is being made by some of the wealthiest men in Italy. Silvio Berlusconi, owner of A.C Milan, has a personal wealth valued at US$9.4 billion according to Forbes magazine, while Massimo Moratti, the president of Inter, is an oil tycoon who has spent US$400 million on the club alone. The players may be wealthy but it is chump change compared to the owners of the clubs.

Far from the triviality that Pecks describes it as, the proposed strike isn’t about greed but rather about the fundamental rights that players deserve. CNN described the dispute as follows, “The current stalemate occurred when a collective contract between the AIC (the Players Association) and the league, guaranteeing players’ rights, expired during the summer and talks on a new deal failed. The sticking point is that clubs want the power to be able to sell players in the final year of their contract and, if a player refuses, he must buy out his contract at 50 per cent of its worth.”

This rule means that a player must move clubs if their club accepts an offer in the final year of his year or the player must pay to have his club sack him.

But it is beyond just this rule; there are eight points in dispute when it comes to negotiations. The players association have said two are unnegotiable, including the final year of contract rule but also a proposal of banning unwanted players from training with the first team.

Massimo Oddo, a defender for AC Milan, said the strike was organised to “protest against the failure to renew the last contract but is also against current aims to reduce the status of players to simple objects.”

Importantly, players at all clubs have agreed to it and there has no been no player who has vowed to play on September 25-26, when the strike is planned.

It is not too hard to work out what is happening. Club presidents want firmer control over the actions of players and are trying to roll back the rights won by players over decades. A 2008 Irish Left Review article wrote about an incident in 1968 in France. “In a long-forgotten incident, a hundred or so footballers occupied the headquarters of the French Football Federation on avenue Iéna to demand reforms to contractual conditions that had previously meant, in effect, indentured players being unable to choose their club at the end of their contract.” The rule meant that players, despite not being under contract, could be held in bondage to one club for their whole lives. The culmination of this struggle was the Bosman ruling that decided football players have freedom of movement and freedom of association within Europe. So when a player’s contract ended, they were free to move to a club of their choice. Thus a basic right was granted to football players, and is now in danger of being taken away.

Players, undoubtedly, have used this as a bargaining tactic. Some will wait until their contract ends and hope that a club will be willing to spend more on the player’s wages because they don’t have to pay a transfer fee. But the bigger issue is the right of players to decide who they will play for, and that is what under attack with this proposal.

The clubs presidents’ offer includes the stipulation that they can be transferred to clubs that are equally competitive and on an equal financial footing but this masks an attack on a player’s freedom of association. Why should a player be forced to move from Cagilari to Rome, if they don’t want to? Players have a whole myriad of reasons not to want to transfer, it could be for family reasons, professional reasons, they might not believe they’ll play as often at another club or even political reasons, arch-Communist Christiano Luccarelli is unlikely to want to move to Lazio, which has hardcore fascist support.

This is what Oddo means when he says being treated like objects; players aren’t stocks to be traded at will but humans who should decided where they will live and work. Players have a right to say “no” even if they are wealthy. The player’s strike should be supported if it goes ahead, if the players are defeated, the biggest victors will be the mega wealthy club owners not the fans or anyone else suffering due to the economic crisis.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 30, 2012 10:20 am

    I think the players have sense in here. After all they are not an object for trading. There are some aspects in their life that must be regarded, such as freedom of choice.

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