ERIC WEIL in BUENOS AIRES: A decree was signed this week by Argentina’s vice-president Amado Boudou assigning another £32m) pesos for the Football for All programme under which all top division matches are televised free throughout the country.
This may seem a strange concept in Europe with its cable and satellite and pay-TV chains at war, like Sky and BT Sport over the Champions League.
But this is Argentina and Argentina in a mid-term election year.
The decree was passed under the programme known as Necessity and Urgency – as if there were not more urgent things to deal with. In fact, under this programme £5bn more will be spent than authorized by Congress in the budget and will, no doubt, keep the printing presses busy and fuel more inflation.
The government had fallen behind in its payments under the 10-year contract signed with the Argentine Football Association (AFA) in 2009 and in which payments would increase yearly according to inflation (not, apparently, according to the government’s INDEC statistics), but there had only been one increase in 2011.
The AFA had been claiming the increase for some time, but one argument against the AFA was that in spite of the extra money going to soccer, the losses incurred by clubs continue to increase.
In fact, a government official calculated that since 2009 losses had increased by almost 50pc. In the past, President Cristina Kirchner Fernandez had expressed the same opinion but neither the government, nor the AFA, had put their foot down as they should have done so they share the blame equally.
But it seems the government does not really care where the money goes and puts more importance on the large audience it has for its propaganda during televised soccer while the AFA is inefficient. Time and again it has threatened clubs in debt with sanctions, even with relegation, if they owed money – threats never carried out.
Of the £32m mentioned, £9m is due to go to the clubs, while the rest is for transmission costs.
But where, precisely, will that £9m go? That has always seemed a mystery which, however, has plenty of explanations. But then there is so much wrong with Argentine domestic soccer that one does not know where to start.
This columnist would suggest that the extra TV money should go direct to pay debts, or part of them if not enough, without the clubs getting their hands on it, while the next payment should only go to clubs whose accounts balance.
Reasons for losses by clubs are multiple.
Bad administration and direct corruption – even giving free tickets to hooligans is also corruption – by club officials winning elections without the necessary capacity to run a club or for their own benefit and having too large playing staffs, while also buying and selling players badly.
In the latter transfer business too much money goes into the wrong pockets with agents, investors and even club officials collecting a percentage. These are just a few of the reasons.
Also to blame is the AFIP tax collecting agency which is owed money by clubs but has not sanctioned them.
More money is owed from transfers where some taxes are avoided. AFIP and judges have investigated, but these investigations seem to have been very feeble and have not resulted in much. The courts are also not helping AFIP as last month it stopped an investigation into transfers.
Clubs complain that cost of the quantity of police needed at matches continues to increase for which they and the government are to blame. If there were no hooligan gangs, so much policing would not be necessary. But hardly any clubs do anything to get rid of them – some even helping them financially and otherwise – while the government seems reluctant to make tougher laws to break them up and some politicians have contacts with them.
AFA president Julio Grondona once said that there were a lot of hooligans or members connected with them in Congress. Who can argue with that?
Clubs also lose money by not allowing entry to fans of visiting clubs as a solution by security officials to avoid trouble which, as mentioned in the past, does more harm than good.
Grondona, who says he wants visiting fans back, is annoyed that some clubs sell tickets to visiting fans as “neutrals” (at higher prices) – yet this is a good idea to get more money and to correct what was a mistake.
Players pay . . .
It is rare for a club to pay their players on time. It was found this year that at some clubs players were owed four months salaries and finally went on strike, firstly not concentrating, then not coming to train and finally threatening not to play.
It is only then that some money “mysteriously” turns up to pay them something to lift the strike and to come to an agreement (sometimes again not kept) to pay in instalments.
Now the Argentinian players union has sent a note to the AFA asking it not to allow clubs to register new players while they owe their players money. That would be a start, but will the AFA comply this time?
Clubs are reluctant to pay for anything, even if they have the money. Now Mexico’s Atlante and Greece’s Olympiakos have complained to soccer’s international federation, FIFA, that Colón and Independiente bought players from them several years ago and arranged an instalment plan they did not comply with.
Colón owe $802,000 and Independiente $1.8m. FIFA ordered the AFA to take six points off them if they do not pay and threatened further sanctions such as relegation and even expulsion.
Grondona first said the AFA would lend Colón the money but has not done so.
Colón have already lost six points which moved them to the bottom of the initial championship table and could result in relegation.
Independiente, with debts everywhere and Brazil’s Cruzeiro ready to claim transfer money from them also, could lose the points any day, hurting their chances to return to the top division.