Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has urged Premier League footballers to “play your part” in the coronavirus crisis and take a reduction in wages.
Football clubs have been accused of operating in a “moral vacuum” after a number of them put non-playing staff on furlough leave without asking their superstar players to accept a pay cut.
Speaking at the government’s daily coronavirus briefing, he said: “I think everybody needs to play their part in this national effort and that means Premier League footballers too.
“Given the sacrifices that many people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS who have made the ultimate sacrifice of going into work and have caught the disease and sadly died, I think the first thing that Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution, take a pay cut.”
Julian Knight, chairman of the digital, culture, media and sport committee, has said that clubs that use the furlough scheme for non-playing staff while not cutting players’ salaries should face a windfall tax.
He has written to Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and Richard Masters, the Premier League chief executive, calling for tougher measures if clubs continue to use the system.
Bournemouth, Newcastle United, Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur have said that they will put staff on furlough leave without asking their players to accept a reduction in pay.
Tottenham has announced a profit of £172.7 million in accounts that also reveal £7 million in salary and bonuses for Daniel Levy, its chairman.
Mr Knight, who accused millionaire footballers of living in a moral vacuum during the crisis, urged the chancellor to introduce sanctions against any club that continued to pursue what he called a “two-tier system”.
He said: “A windfall tax would allow the Treasury to recover a substantial proportion of the money paid out to players, which could be used to reimburse non-playing staff.”
He added: “We are facing an obscene situation where top players who aren’t working are continuing to see hundreds of thousands of pounds roll in each week while the staff who keep the clubs going are losing wages.”
In a letter to the chancellor, Mr Knight said: “This two-tier system is morally wrong, especially given the extremely high wages paid to players. Non-playing staff keep Premier League clubs in business, ensuring the smooth running of finances, administration, kit, stadiums and player welfare. It is deeply unfair that these staff should take less money home while players retain their full salary.”
He said that the idea of furlough scheme was not to support the economics of Premier League clubs, adding: “Lessons should be learnt from European clubs including Bayern Munich, Juventus and Barcelona, where players have all agreed to take pay reductions.”
In a letter to Mr Masters, he urged the Premier League to be “role modelling a responsible approach”.
Eddie Howe, the Bournemouth manager, and Graham Potter, the Brighton and Hove Albion manager, have offered to take big wage cuts to help their clubs. Senior executives have also agreed to salary reductions.
The Premier League, the English Football League and the Professional Footballers’ Association are in talks to reach a deal that would involve clubs asking players to take pay cuts or deferrals to protect against the impact of the crisis. The discussions could lead to a resolution before a Premier League shareholders meeting today.
Gary Lineker, who said that he would donate two months’ wages to the British Red Cross, criticised his former club, Tottenham, but said he believed that footballers would do the right thing. He told the World at One on BBC Radio 4: “The way Tottenham have handled it I don’t think has been very good . . . But that is a separate issue to what the players do. It’s the club that has said that the players are going to carry on with their wages but let’s see how the players react to it.”
The PFA in a statement last night criticised clubs that might be using the furlough scheme when they had the resources to pay non-playing staff.
“The PFA has never stated that it will block all wage deferrals,” it said. “What we have sought [is] to ensure a fair response across the leagues.”
David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, tweeted: “It’s criminal that Premier League footballers haven’t moved more quickly to take pay cuts and deferrals. And completely wrong that taxpayers are now being asked to subsidise cleaners, caterers and security guards at these clubs instead.”