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October 24, 2013 4:40 pm
François Hollande has bent over backwards since becoming France’s president to avoid provoking the Gallic propensity to strike. Now, of all unlikely sources, he faces a weekend of strike action by the country’s football clubs, who have instructed players to hang up their boots in protest against his 75 per cent income tax rate.
Angrily condemning the “unfair and discriminatory” tax for threatening to cripple struggling clubs, Jean-Pierre Louvel, head of the UCPF, the professional football club union, declared on Thursday: “We are talking about the death of French football.”
The unprecedented strike – involving the cancellation of all matches in the final week of November – presents a new challenge for Mr Hollande, who is suffering from deep unpopularity and struggling to emerge from a furious controversy over the deportation earlier this month of a Roma schoolgirl and her family.
The 75 per cent tax, a key Hollande election pledge, which is set to take effect from next year, will be levied on employers who must pay it for two years on all annual salaries above €1m.
The UCPF insists that the tax will have a devastating effect on French football clubs, which are mostly lossmaking and struggle to compete for players with Spanish, English, German and Italian rivals, despite the recent infusion of vast funds into Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco by deep-pocketed foreign buyers.
The clubs say the tax will cost them collectively €44m a year. They say clubs and their players paid €700m in tax and social contributions last year – more than they earned in television rights.
“We are already the most taxed league in Europe and the other leagues are already much stronger than us,” complained Mr Louvel.
In this week’s podcast, Gideon Rachman is joined by Hugh Carnegy and Ben Hall to discuss President François Hollande’s approval ratings, which have dropped to a sorry 23%
Struggling clubs such as Marseille, Lyon, Lille and Bordeaux, with exposures to the tax of €4m to €8m each, see it as a further hindrance to their dwindling ability to compete with PSG and Monaco and foreign rivals.
But it was far from clear the clubs have the sympathy of fans. An LCI-Opinion Way poll on Thursday showed 85 per cent support for taxing the clubs and a similar level of opposition to the strike.
The issue is also clouded by the cases of PSG and Monaco. PSG was bought three years ago by an arm of the Qatar state, which has spent more than €300m on transfers. They included the €20m purchase in 2012 of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the star Swedish striker, reportedly paid some €15m a year.
PSG is slated to have to pay €20m to meet the tax levy, but its owners have means well beyond most French teams.
We are already the most taxed league in Europe and the other leagues are already much stronger than us
- Jean-Pierre Louvel, head of the UCPF
Monaco, owned by Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian billionaire, and lying second to PSG in the league, is exempt from the tax as it is based in the low-tax principality, not on French territory. The club spent €170m on transfers in the summer, including €60m on the Colombian striker Radamel Falcao.
Bernard Caïazzo, president of St Etienne, told L’Equipe, the sports daily, he would “not shed a tear” if it was the highly paid players who had to pay the tax, saying it was “absurd” that lossmaking clubs had to do so.
Mr Hollande agreed this week to meet football’s leaders next Thursday. But the UCPF nonetheless agreed unanimously to the strike.
The cancelled games on November 29, 30 and December 1 will be replaced by “open days” at the club grounds. The matches will be rescheduled.
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