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French football clubs to go ahead with strike

Decision follows President Hollande's rejection of their tax exemption demand
Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 06:00

Paris

FRENCH football clubs said they would push ahead with a historic strike after President Francois Hollande rejected their demands to be exempt from a 75 per cent tax on high earners.

The strike - planned for the last weekend of this month and including clubs from France's Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 first and second divisions - will be the first for French football since 1972.

Club chiefs met Mr Hollande on Thursday in a desperate bid to push for their exemption, but left empty-handed.

The tax on incomes over one million euros (S$1.68 million) must apply to "all companies concerned", Mr Hollande was quoted in a statement as telling the clubs.

"The need to rebalance public accounts fully justifies this effort asked of companies that have made the choice of paying annual salaries at such a level," Mr Hollande said.

He also invited clubs to work with the government on developing a "durable and balanced economic model" for the industry.

Football chiefs said they now had no choice but to push ahead with the strike.

"The president listened attentively but absolutely did not hear us," said Frederic Thiriez, the head of the French Football League.

"No solution was found tonight, so the mobilisation is going ahead," he said.

The tax, one of the socialist leader's main electoral promises, is part of next year's budget but has not yet been approved by Parliament.

The proposed levy is temporary and will affect income earned this year and in 2014. It is aimed at helping the eurozone's second-largest economy reduce a huge budget deficit.

Mr Hollande's initial proposal to tax the rich on individual incomes over one million euros was shot down as unconstitutional by the country's top court.

But the government came back with a modified proposal that now makes companies liable to pay the 75 per cent tax rate for the portion of employees' salaries above the million euro ceiling.

Football clubs complain that the move will hit them especially hard because they sign players on short-term contracts. They say the tax will make it impossible to attract top-flight talent.

In protest at the tax, clubs in Ligue 1 and 2 have said they will not take part in fixtures from Nov 29 to Dec 2 in what has been described as a "historic protest".

Football clubs argue that the measure will cost Ligue 1 about 44 million euros, given the high salaries earned by about 120 players from 14 clubs.

Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain, France's richest club, counts more than 10 players whose pay exceeds the one million euro bracket, including Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Although the tax proposal has been criticised by the Opposition, there has been overwhelming agreement across the political spectrum that high-earning footballers should not be let off the hook.

"I don't weep for them," said Dominique Bussereau, a former minister from ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party. "I have no particular sympathy for professional football."

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, added: "It's indecent to see football clubs who are paying goalkeepers 120,000 euros per month come and complain, while millions of French have fallen victim to austerity." - AFP