Rattled, grounded: How will soccer unfold post Covid-19?

A number of players have their contracts ending with their respective clubs in July, and this raises issues especially when the league is extended past July

BY DAVID ONJILI

The sporting world has come to a grinding halt thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic. Nations’ sporting associations reached the verdict to protect the safety of both players and fans as the pandemic engulfed the world claiming thousands of lives, grinding travel to a halt and crippling overwhelming medical services.

The financial effects of the virus have not yet been quantified but the ripple effects on the sporting world are self-evident.

The Football Kenya Federation (FKF) released a communiqué on April 21 urging football clubs in the top leagues to each furnish them with names of 25 players and 5 club officials on their rosters. The intention was too forward this list to the National Government to facilitate payment of salaries to the teams in these hard times.

Kenyan football is a thankless poorly run venture. The 2019 Kenya Premier League (KPL) champions, Gor Mahia have never been paid their Sh4 million prize money for winning the league to date. Never mind that the league lacks a title sponsor and teams play 34 games in a season just to compete for a meagre Sh4million. Several clubs go for months without salaries to players and one can only but speculate the abyss that the Covid-19 pandemic will leave most of the clubs economically once it is over.

The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte banned all professional football in the country On April 24. Its effect was that the Eredivisie, the Dutch top flight league was hence rendered null and void and for the 2019/2020 season there will be no winner and no club either relegated or promoted. Various football associations have their own regulations running their football but we expect more and more such actions to follow suit. The Premier League may be different as they have played more than a quarter of the league games and thus Liverpool FC who are on top of the log may be declared champions. It will however be interesting to see whether teams are relegated or promoted.

What has captured the world’s attention is that the Premier League, estimated to be worth $21b could face such harsh times. The $12b television rights deal that the league enjoys has been tested as games have to be played and televised for the money to be utilised. This does not matter even if the games are played in empty stadia. Will the English Football League push for the resumption of the league even if fans won’t attend?

Wages

Several league clubs in Europe have agreed to pay cuts and deferral for their players’ wages. The saved money is to be used to ensure that the clubs’ non-playing staffs are paid during these times. The contractual agreement reached by clubs is that the amounts deducted at this time to the players’ wages will be reimbursed in full once the leagues and financial situation returns to normalcy in the case of a deferral or some of it will be used to pay other staff.

There are players who have been singled out to have declined the reduction in their wages. Mesut Ozil of Arsenal is claimed to be one of the club’s three players who have decided to wait before their wages are cut, this is after the club released a statement that they had agreed with their players to a 12.5% pay cut. The reasoning coming from Ozil’s agent as quoted by several British media is that they believe that if the season were to resume, Arsenal will receive their full share of their broadcast revenue and thus their profits would not be affected that much. The club’s annual wage bill stands at $310m.

Another headache that the pandemic brings is on player contracts. A number of players have their contracts ending with their respective clubs in July, and this raises issues especially when the league is extended past July. Will they be issued with temporary contracts to enable them aid their clubs finish their seasons? Is it worth risking a short term contract which may result in a long term injury? Which club will sign you? The logistics and nightmare on the contract is also being ironed out between agents and respective clubs, as agents seek to cover their player’s interest past their contract period.

The football economy, just like any other economic sector, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The uncertainty that engulfs the world in the fight against this pandemic makes football to wait, which is truly testing how football operates.

How, for instance, will the next player contracts be drafted putting in mind such a pandemic? How will clubs and leagues negotiate deals with broadcasters in the future? For now, playing the game is not important, the lives of players, coaches and fans is what matters. When the game finally resumes, we will see how a new world order of football unfolds.

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