PREMIER LEAGUE SEASON HANGS IN THE BALANCE AS MONEY AND HEALTH BATTLE FOR POWER
BY Paul Seaton
A major row has been rumbling all week about the controversial steps taken – or not taken – by Premier League clubs and players when it comes to the vast wages that they take home and whether they should still do so during a global pandemic.
It’s a minefield of misdirection, egotistical explosions and hypocritical hubris and it doesn’t look anywhere near a resolution.
As we reported last week, Premier League players were doing their bit to reach out to the fans and convince them to stay at home in order to slow the spread of Coronavirus. In the past seven days, however, the public mood has turned in some quarters from admiration and solidarity with their idols to wondering if the millionaires who often live in mansions by comparison to football fans could be doing a bit more to help with the millions that they have made.
In a decision made on Friday, Premier League clubs agreed that an indefinite postponement of the English Premier League was the only choice they could make with no immediate end in sight to the global pandemic of COVID-19. The 2019/20 Premier League season will only resume when it is completely safe to do so.
Following this decision, however, several key points about what clubs were doing about their staff and any donations to the National Health Service (NHS) that might have been made came to light.
It was at that point that the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, stepped into the debate, putting pressure on players to “play their part” and take a wage cut as well as make donations to support the most vulnerable as well as front line NHS workers.
Players past and present have reacted very differently to the veiled request from the government to get stuck into fundraising rather than juggling toilet rolls. Gary Neville called the statement a “f**king cheek” in a post on Twitter. Others like Danny Rose, who is currently on loan at Newcastle from Tottenham Hotspur, said he was happy to make any kind of donation, certainly the 30% wage cut that the Premier League clubs are being touted as asking their players for, but that it now feels like players hands are being forced.
It has already been reported that Harry Maguire had already spoken to Ed Woodward about the Manchester United players agreeing to a man to donate 30% of their wages to the NHS. Other clubs will surely be doing the same, but it’s not just footballers themselves who have come under attack. While United are an example of one club who have paid all their non-playing staff and at a cost of around £1 million, others have not.
Despite having billionaire owners, both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool have deferred to ask the government to pick up the tab, furloughing their staff at a cost of 80% to the UK government and just 20% to themselves.
Jamie Carragher, a former Liverpool player, has called the decision a ‘disgrace’. Other clubs who have furloughed their staff – Newcastle, Bournemouth and Norwich – have been conspicuous by their silence. Burnley’s bleating that they will lose £50m in revenue pales into insignificance.
Even 30% of players’ wages would amount to donations totaling more than £500m and a tax deficit that government would miss out on to the tune of £200 million. The Players Football Association (PFA) has asked players to hold off making any decision, making the group of club captains apparently set up by Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson who have been discussing how best to help look like a late effort rather than a pro-active one.
Under the proposals currently being discussed, the Premier League would also donate £125m to the English Football League (EFL) and National League, giving just £20m towards the NHS. Is that enough? It could well be viewed that while the Premier League is happy to look after the league behind it to protect its own structure, it isn’t prepared to go the same lengths to protect the NHS currently saving the country from a national disaster every day. Or maybe the Premier League just view that as a fifth as important, as the numbers suggest.
Following an ill-advised tweet from Oliver Dowden, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who said, “[I’m] concerned about the turn football talks have taken. People do not want to see infighting in our national sport at a time of crisis.”, plenty of other politicians have waded in.
Andros Townsend, Crystal Palace winger, said that Hancock’s comments were “deflecting blame on to footballers” and the Premier League themselves have reacted that ongoing meetings with the PFA will go on to find a solution.
Gary Lineker spoke to Sky News’s Mark Austin about the Coronavirus crisis and footballers’ responsibilities to help out at such a difficult time.
Of course, one decision that would impact the footballers’ ability to pay out a proportion of their wages would be the one that seems necessary to guide everything – whether or not the Premier League season will resume.
With the EPL season on indefinite suspension right now, there are several options as to what will happen next, with none of them ideal. Voiding the whole season would be cruel to many teams, not least Liverpool who have a seemingly unassailable lead at the top of the league. Ending the season now with the current standings acting as final league placements has its own cruelty. Who is to say that Chelsea would hang onto 4th place, in far worse current form than several teams below them. Aston Villa have a game in hand on teams above them – if they were relegated without playing it, could they sue the Premier League? It seems likely.
Other options are hardly any better. Playing behind closed doors seems like a logistical nightmare when fans are surely going to congregate outside ground without enforcement. Playing games in another location looks just as unmanageable, with Coronavirus almost everywhere in the world in meaningful terms. It has been classified as a global pandemic, so surely nowhere on the globe is safe.
If a deadline is set for completion and is passed, then the decision to void will feel less sudden but no less painful, while an endless wait to resume poses massive questions about the resumption of cup competitions such as the F.A. Cup, Champions League, Europa League and possibly Euro 2021 depending on the length of the suspension and then the commencement of the 2021/22 EPL season.
The Premier League has said that it would face a massive £762m in financial forfeits if the EPL season is sacrificed, with broadcasters able to demand their money back on games that haven’t been screened.
If it falls on broadcasters to make the financial sacrifice, it seems highly unlikely that it will happen, so the pressure is right back onto the footballers. Player power is about to be tested in the biggest way since the Premier League came into creation in the summer of 1992.
BY Derek Tonin
Lawmakers in the U.K. have been consistently calling for tougher regulation on gambling operators, and a stricter application of rules currently in place. That means none of them are happy that the U.K. Gambling Commission (UKGC) has announced it will be cutting its total headcount.
The Guardian reports the UKGC has spoken to its 332 full-time staff about reducing it’s total staffing levels in an upcoming restructuring. While not confirming the report, the UKGC has admitted it was talking to employees “about some changes we are considering.”
But quite simply, the regulator’s £19m annual budget isn’t enough to maintain the current headcount of the UKGC. British MPs, who have pressed for stricter regulation, are astounded at the news.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris said: “Given the abysmal service provided by the commission against a continued onslaught of reprehensible practice among gambling companies, and a woeful report from the NAO, I had expected the Gambling Commission to be beefing up their service in an attempt to justify their existence.”
She sees this as an admission of defeat by the regulator. “If they are scaling back it must be assumed they have given up and will be declaring themselves unfit for purpose.”
A commission spokesperson noted that the UKGC simply needs to change up its strategy to meet MP demands. “The pace of change and the complexity of the issues we have to manage are increasing and that means we have to constantly look for ways to be more agile and responsive as new risks or opportunities emerge.”
In a National Audit Office report which cited the UKGC’s funding as insufficient, it noted that the regulator has failed to keep up with technological changes. Online and mobile gaming just haven’t been the UKGC’s strengths, they argued.
But even with just £19m in funding, the UKGC has brought in plenty in fines. Just in the past month, the UKGC has fined Caesars Entertainment for £13 million, and Betway for £11.6 million, both for anti-money laundering violations.
While the UKGC is promising it will publish a business plan for the upcoming year shortly, this also makes for terrible timing during the COVID-19 crisis. MPs recently issued an open letter to the gambling industry and regulators, demanding better protection for the public with so many stuck at home.
UK MPS CALL FOR STRICTER ONLINE GAMBLING MEASURES
The Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group says more needs to be done to protect players during the Covid-19 lockdown.
UK.- A group of MPs have called for stricter online gambling measures to be enforced during the Coronavirus lockdown.
Last week, the Betting & Gaming Council (BGC) issued a 10-point pledge promising extra measures that will ensure firms do not exploit vulnerable people and problem players during the crisis.
But in an urgent letter to the government and the BGC, 22 MPs, two Lords and a UK gambling addiction expert said measures put forward by the 10-point pledge were ‘weak’.
“The Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) welcomed the announcement by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) this week that it is seeking to set the standards expected of members during the Covid-19 Pandemic,” the APPG said.
“It will not come as a surprise to you, however, that we do not think that the standards you have proposed go anything like far enough.
“Most measures are loosely worded, do not make firm commitments or merely restate existing obligations. Instead, we would expect you to adopt standards that respond appropriately to the context we are in and which will help to protect gamblers at this critical time.”
The APPG said that five urgent measures must be introduced if the BGC wants to seriously reduce harm to UK online gamblers.
They want a commitment to implement mandatory deposit limits for as long as the Covid-19 crisis lasts, a £2-per-spin stake limit and a ban on VIP schemes, an end to all gambling advertising and sign-up bonus offers.
Additionally, operators should “make their data available to ensure independent research can be undertaken to assess the scale of harm being caused by the industry at this time.”
They added: “At this time, it is incumbent on us all to do everything we can to support people’s safety and wellbeing, to support our society, protect the vulnerable and to put public interest ahead of gambling companies’ profit.”
Earlier this week, it was revealed that over half a million people in the UK had blocked themselves from using their online gambling accounts during lockdown measures.