Looming salary cut for SA soccer players due to financial damage of the coronavirus

31 March 2020 - 07:44 By MARK GLEESON
Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Image: AFP

South African clubs are yet to ask their players to take a pay cut as a result of the potential financial damage being done by the coronavirus lockdown, but the South African Football Players Union are preparing for the discussion.

Players across the world, including Lionel Messi at Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus, have given up portions of their salaries to help reduce the costs at their respective clubs, where there is no longer any income as a result of the suspension of league and cup competition matches.

But SAFPU president Thulaganyo Gaoahubelwe says “we might have to enter into this discussion” and is getting ready for it.

“We have flagged it.

“But we are not at that point,” he added.

“If it gets to that point, we will sit down and negotiate on the facts that are before us.”

SAFPU feel any such discussion could take place in the same spirit of co-operation that pervaded in the talks about the suspension of the league earlier this month, as the threat of the spread of the deadly virus became more obvious.

“We made our points on occupational hazard, health and safety in that discussion and we were pleased they were taken up,” he said.

“We cannot preempt now what is going to happen but we have been watching what has been going on overseas,” he told TimesLIVE.

South African footballers have seen wages increase considerably over the last years, but they are a pittance when compared to what players at European clubs take home.

A handful of top stars at Mamelodi Sundowns are earning around R4m annually but the average at the club are closer to R2m, which is also what the other top clubs pay their leading players.

The average salary for a Premier Soccer League is still below six figures a year although there are players at almost all clubs who earn in excess of R1m per year, or R100,000 per month.

In the lower league, it can be as little as R10,000 per month – which is likely what some world stars spend on champagne in just an hour on a night out.

The highest paid footballer in the world is Messi, whose estimated overall income from his salary plus commercial endorsements is €130m annually, well into the billions in Rand terms.

Cristiano Ronaldo makes around €120m (some R2bn) and the Brazilian Neymar, who plays at Paris St Germain, is at €95m a year (approx. R1,8bn).

Salary figures are kept secretive, but the international figures come from the annual list of the world’s best paid footballers, which is compiled by the magazine France Football.

The latest list was published just last week.

South African figures come anecdotally as clubs and agents keep such information close to their chests. 

Some of the world’s biggest clubs, who rake in millions of dollars at the turnstiles, from sponsorship, replica shirts and television rights, have come under strain because of losses prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

At least 10 of the world’s 12 highest earning clubs in Europe are negotiating to reduce their multimillion wage bills, while smaller clubs, in Belgium for example, have taken 50 percent off players’ salaries and even started retrenching support staff.

The moratorium on playing matches has meant no income from matches or broadcasting in most of the world although in the PSL the clubs continue to get their grant from TV rights.

For most clubs, the grant money is the major part of their income with little revenue being made directly from the public.

In England, the Premier League clubs are meeting on Friday with the British media suggesting teams are trying to agree a deferral of wages across the board.

Last week, the Premier League held a meeting with the Professional Football’s Association, the players’ trade body in England.

The PFA said the talks were needed because “as with other industries, the current Covid-19 crisis is having a severe impact on the finances of the game”.

“Several clubs have already approached players with a view to imposing pay deferrals,” it added.