Coronavirus: Singapore Premier League footballers could face pay cuts

Singapore Premier League match between Tampines Rovers and Lion City Sailors on March 18, 2020. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Footballers plying their trade in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) could be hit by salary cuts as part of the clubs' austerity measures to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Sources told The Straits Times on Tuesday (March 31) that a majority of the clubs are mulling salary reductions as their jackpot operations, a primary source of revenue for most of them, were disrupted following the government announcement on March 24 of enhanced measures to combat the spread of the Covid-19 disease.

It is understood the matter was brought up during a meeting between club chairmen on Monday evening, although the quantum or percentage of reduction has not been finalised and the move is yet to be confirmed. ST understands that most of the clubs have not addressed the possible wage cuts with their players.

The average annual budget for each SPL side is between $1 million and $1.5 million, and their monthly wage bills for players are between $75,000 and $100,000.

The nine-team SPL has been suspended since March 24, over a week after the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) had initially taken the decision to play fixtures behind closed doors.

One club official, on condition of anonymity, told ST: "Most, if not all, SPL clubs rely more on jackpot revenue than gate receipts (from matches), and since we don't know how long the enhanced measures will be in place... Cost-cutting is seen as a necessary measure."

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the suspension of major football leagues worldwide, and in Europe clubs have moved to tighten their belts.

At Spanish giants Barcelona, Lionel Messi and teammates agreed to a 70 per cent reduction in pay, while Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest of the squad at Italian champions Juventus waived four months of salaries.

While these players boast hefty salary packages - the average player reportedly earns €11 million (S$17.2m) a year at Barcelona and just over €9m ($14.4m) a year at Juventus - those in the SPL earn more modest sums.

In the SPL, most Singapore internationals earn between $5,000 and $10,000 monthly - comparable to foreign imports - while local Under-23 players starting out their careers earn between $500 and $2,500.

One player at a mid-table SPL club, who declined to be named, said: "Receiving the news sucks, of course.

"We often hear how clubs say they want to help players, but in a crisis, the first thing they think of is to cut our salaries."

Another player, signed to a club that finished in the top four last season, said he had not been informed of any possible wage reduction but has heard rumours that it could be as high as 50 per cent.

He said: "Some players have families to feed, homes to pay for, or even weddings to save up for.

"And what about players that earn only $1,000? Will they now take home a few hundred dollars?"

The subject of wage cuts has also been broached by other professional football leagues in the region in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Football Association of Indonesia announced last Friday that clubs in its top two divisions - which have been suspended since March 16 - are required to pay only 25 per cent of players' salaries until June, a decision that was derided by the Indonesian professional players' association.

Across the Causeway, Johor Darul Takzim players and officials agreed to take a 33 per cent pay cut but players from other clubs are less comfortable with the idea, with the Professional Footballers Association of Malaysia releasing a statement on Saturday rejecting any reduction in salaries. There is no professional footballers' association in Singapore.

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