Chinese football agonises over wage cuts in face of coronavirus

CSL players were under growing pressure to take a pay cut in line with the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ninety percent of respondents of an online poll were in favour of a pay cut. - AFP

Chinese Super League (CSL) players were under growing pressure on Tuesday to take a pay cut in line with the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, as coronavirus hits football hard. The CSL has some of the best-paid coaches and players in the world with Shanghai SIPG’s Brazilian attacking midfielder Oscar reportedly earning nearly USD 30 million a year.

However, while many CSL players have donated masks and other equipment in the fight against the pandemic, which has caused all football to stop, there is no unified response. The CSL season was supposed to begin on February 22 but was indefinitely postponed because of the outbreak, which began in China in December before spreading worldwide.

The campaign is unlikely to begin before late May at the earliest even though China says that the number of locally transmitted infections and deaths has dwindled. State-run Xinhua news agency published a lengthy article debating whether CSL clubs should follow Messi’s Barcelona and Ronaldo’s Juventus in temporarily cutting salaries by as much as 70 percent.

Bayern Munich’s players have also agreed to take a pay cut, as have those at other clubs in the Bundesliga, while a similar argument is raging in the English Premier League.

A video conference involving CSL clubs on Thursday will likely see salary cuts discussed, the Beijing News said.

Other media went further, saying that a salary reduction will definitely be broached in Chinese Football Association (CFA) talks this week.

Fans in favour

Xinhua cited online polls of fans showing that the overwhelming majority - in one instance 90 percent of respondents - were in favour of a pay cut. But it noted that some fans are against reducing salaries because, unlike in suspended European leagues, CSL teams are already in training for the new season even though it has no start date. Xinhua quoted one CSL club as being “inclined to cut pay” but is awaiting guidance from the CFA and FIFA.

“All clubs are watching, the problem is that no one wants to be the first,” the news agency cited another as saying.

An opinion piece in the Oriental Sports Daily argued that with almost all industries badly affected by coronavirus, it was unfair to single out footballers. “Many people [in China] are very resentful of Chinese football, saying that these people have taken so much money... and should use their salaries to pay more to scientists and doctors, but this is a misunderstanding,” wrote Ge Aiping.

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“I haven’t seen any news of a Chinese Super League player who proposed a voluntary pay cut. [But] money is not easy to earn and if you want to give it out, you really need to struggle with yourself.”

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Chinese football sprang to prominence in recent years by dishing out world-leading wages to foreign players and coaches, but the CFA has since reined in spending.

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