Tuesday, 2 June 2009

All at it: bankers, politicans... and footballers

Sunder and Tom’s study of social mobility within football provides a very interesting analogy for rising and increasingly entrenched inequalities across society over the last 30 years, and illustrates well the fact that ‘fairness does not happen by chance’.

But it seems that rising inequalities in professional football are not simply illustrative or reflective of rising inequalities across society generally: in fact, footballers themselves are said to be planning to undermine (already limited) efforts towards alleviating inequalities.

It turns out that some of the top Premiership footballers have discovered that the new 50p income tax band will chip into their wages. It could ever turn out that the Premiership no longer offers the highest wages in the world, once tax has been taken into consideration. And they are searching for ways to avoid paying this additional tax, with players at Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal said to have asked to be paid their salaries as interest-free loans.

Arsenal’s recent signing, Andrei Arshavin meanwhile- who had seemed almost overbearingly honest in a game against Fulham last month, going as far as admitting to the referee that he had not been fouled and so did not deserve a penalty- has simply requested an increase in his £80,000 a week wages to cover the loss he will incur due to the tax rise.

First anger at (not Sir) Fred’s pension, then at MP allowances that exceed the average annual income: could the growing public awareness and rejection of massive inequalities extend to an outcry even against the beautiful game?


Calix said...

I suppose public outrage at pay only seems to come at times when you're doing badly and, to coin the cliche, being rewarded for failure. When Tony Blair was at his height of popularity I wonder if the expenses scandal would have had such resonance, or people would have shrugged their shoulders and muttered 'well, they're doing a good job'.

But now in politics, just as with Fred the Shred, people only see failure in Westminster and in this context personal wealth accumulation doesn't look good.

Put it another way. Will Barcelona fans complain about the greed of their footballers? My guess is they couldn't care a monkeys now, but will just as soon as they fail.

Perhaps the only answer to satisfy voters, bank customers and football fans is performance related pay. In an earlier blog I tentatively suggested this for politicians. I suggested they could be judged by a jury of their constituents as to how well they had performed each year against pre-set goals - just like many people have in their work-pklaces. They would still get a basic salary so none of them would starve. The danger of course is that this could encourage short-term 'bonus' seeking measures, much like with the bankers; but, if the citizen juries looked at the longer term picture, perhaps not. What do you think Lewis?

Richard T said...

As long as the football clubs pick up the tab for this bit of tax evasion and the treasury benefits, I am not too bothered. If it hastens the demise of the clubs through accommodating this greed then so much the better.

Lewis Cooper said...

I agree with you, Calix, that public outrage at sky-high wages often comes with poor performance, as the claim that the wages reflect and reward excellence is no longer possible. However, I think there is also a wider sentiment developing that these sky-high wages are excessive rewards however good the performance. This is related to people feeling the pinch with the recession, or at least has been brought into the foreground with the recession, but is something that can certainly be built on (perhaps football is a good test case for notions of desert- as it certainly couldn't be said that people are simply out to give footballers a beating, as could perhaps be said with politicians and bankers).

I agree with you, Richard, that there is much less of a problem is clubs pick up the tab for the extra tax (and I am relieved to think that Arsenal's sensible financial management over the last few years ensures they would not subsequently collapse..)

However, tax evasion of the sort being suggested, with players being paid wages instead as interest-free loans, seems completely unacceptable, even through the eyes of a football fan. It is at this point, with footballers refusing to contribute even in a vaguely-fair manner to society, whilst the fans who support their wages are cancelling Sky Sports and Setanta subscriptions and already cannot afford to see them play live, that I wonder if footballers could then be seen in the same light as politicians and bankers.