Premier League Players Bear Covid-19 Burden

The impact of the Covid-19-induced hiatus on elite sports has been devastating. In the English Premier League (EPL), clubs have been faced with tremendous financial difficulties. In an interview about whether English soccer has done enough to combat the crisis, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock singled out EPL footballers, not their employers, to "play their part" and consider taking a reduction in pay.

The impact of the Covid-19-induced hiatus on elite sports has been devastating. In the English Premier League (EPL), clubs have been faced with tremendous financial difficulties. In an interview about whether English soccer has done enough to combat the crisis, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock singled out EPL footballers, not their employers, to "play their part" and consider taking a reduction in pay. The Professional Footballers Association (PFA) corroborated Hancock’s statement, releasing a statement asserting that “players will have to share the financial burden.” But looking at the bigger picture, countless players have contributed to the community around them, while their employers, the clubs which compete in the world’s richest soccer league, have not borne their relative share of the burden.

Top-level players, both high and low profile—who in some cases get paid hundreds of thousands each week—have made donations to healthcare services or agreed to pay cuts to support non-playing staff members. For instance, Arsenal FC agreed on an annual pay reduction of 12.5% with its players.

Beyond wage cuts, numerous Premier League players have started initiatives to support those most in need. The ‘Players Together’ campaign was launched in an effort to help the National Health Service with its Covid-19 treatment and relief efforts. As the campaign grew in support and popularity, ‘Players Together’ has become a worldwide symbol for collaboration and influenced many players, regardless of their nationality, to show their gestures of goodwill and charity. Hundreds of players and ex-players, including Leicester FC Striker Jamie Vardy, Liverpool FC Captain Jordan Henderson, and Chelsea FC veteran César Azpilicueta, posted the ‘Players Together’ statement in a coordinated social media declaration stating that they have partnered with NHS Charities Together (NHSCT) to assist them in generating and distributing funds quickly and efficiently to where they are needed most. These players have actively gone out of their financial comfort zones to contribute to their communities, and they certainly deserve more praise.

Despite urging players to take pay cuts, some EPL clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur FC and Newcastle United FC signed up to the UK government's furloughing scheme to help pay their non-playing staff members. Liverpool FC, the world’s seventh-richest club and incumbent Premier League champion when the Western world went into lockdown, announced that it would also take advantage of the option to furlough to pay around 200 employees. Liverpool, who had a pre-tax profit of £42 million in the 2018/19 season, only reversed its decision when faced with serious criticism in the media and among fans.

Instead of taking money out of their deep pockets, these clubs are extracting resources that they simply do not need as much as other recipients of government relief efforts. Yet the criticism towards players continued, and in response, several high-profile former players voiced their opinions on politicians' statements targeted at soccer players. Gary Lineker, former England Captain and current sports broadcaster, argued that soccer players were always an "easy target" but questioned, "where are the big businessmen, where are the CEOs of these enormous companies, what are they doing at the moment? Nobody ever seems to care, but footballers do an unbelievable amount of good in the community that never gets reported."

Assuming England will not suffer another wave of infections and lockdowns, it is expected that the league's revenue in the 2020-2021 season will reach a record-high of £5.4 billion due to the drastic increase in revenue made from broadcasting. For the past 11 seasons, Premier League clubs have earned just less than £3 billion from the broadcast field. Thus, Matt Hancock and those who echoed his sentiment placed players in an extremely difficult position of having to make a personal financial sacrifice, while the government simultaneously allowed the clubs to not hold the same standard of responsibility, despite the league’s healthy revenues. Simply put, we should more heavily scrutinize the wealthy clubs which compose the EPL instead of vilifying players for a supposed lack of contribution.

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