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Don’t you dare furlough staff

Increasingly, football clubs are furloughing their non-playing staff. Arsenal, as of now, have not. And amid the current climate, they absolutely should not.

We are in unprecedented times. The coronavirus outbreak has changed the world over, suspending sport, businesses and entire countries. And football, like everything else, has fallen foul.

On Friday, the Premier League confirmed that play would be suspended indefinitely and would not return until it is safe and appropriate to do so. They had initially postponed play until the start of May. Not it seems as though this hiatus could last well into the summer and even the autumn.

There are obvious health concerns and risks that should be the priority of all involved, from governments to the general public, but the economic ramifications off COVID-19 will be extreme also. In the United Kingdom, to aid businesses and workers, an emergency retention scheme was set up by the Government. This allowed businesses to furlough their staff, meaning that employees would not work during the coronavirus outbreak and would be paid 80% of their wages up to £2,500 per months by the Government.

The scheme was designed for smaller businesses who have lost large portions of their revenue to help them retain staff and avoid bankruptcy during this difficult period. Many have rightfully taken advantage of it. But then there are some that will exploit it for their own gain, including, sadly, football clubs.

Newcastle United were the first Premier League club to take advantage. On March 30th, they announced that they would furlough all non-first-team staff. This includes scouts, academy coaches and workers at the club’s foundation charity.

Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, will also furlough approximately 550 non-playing staff. This was announced on the same day that their financial records up to June 2019 were published. Chairman Daniel Levy was paid £7 million in that year, including a £3 million bonus for completing a stadium that was late and overbudget. Spurs’ operating profit was £172.7 million that year.

And now Liverpool have joined the club, announcing that they would place some non-playing staff on furlough on Saturday. They would pay 20% pay cut that these employees would suffer, but, essentially, 80% of their pay would be funded by the Government, and thereby the taxpayer. This is the same team that handed £43.4 million to agents between February 2018 and January 2019 — this would keep 500 staff on full pay for almost 10 months — and increased their turnover to £533 million, as their financial records showed on February 27th.

There is a moral obligation from football clubs to partake in helping in this global pandemic. And Arsenal are no different. Thus far, the Gunners have announced they will continue to pay all staff in full until the end of April. This does not include contract workers like stewards and some events staff.

Josh Kroenke confirmed that this would be the plan throughout the Kroenke Sports and Entertainment company, which includes the Colorado Rapids, Los Angeles Rams, the Denver Nuggets and other sports teams.

This is a good start. But it is the same pledge that Liverpool made before they then changed their tune. Last year, Arsenal earned 11th-highest revenue in the world per the Deloitte Money League. Per Forbes, as of September 12th, 2018, Kroenke is worth $8.8 billion. He is the 183rd richest person in the world, ranking third among Premier League owners and fourth among owners in Europe behind Chelsea, Manchester City and Juventus.

There is absolutely no economic reason why the club must take advantage of the Government’s emergency retention scheme. They do not need to. It is not designed for them. And yet, in the increasingly cut-throat, money-obsesses, ruthless and heartless world of modern football, I am not holding my breath.

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