Spanish soccer strike scuppers Saturday's season start

Players in Spain's La Liga started a two-week strike Friday to demand payment of back wages. But the teams, several of which are in bankruptcy say they can't afford to pay.

Andres Kudacki
FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi, right, vies for the ball with Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo during their Super Cup final match in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday. Messi, Ronaldo, and the rest of the players in Spain's La Liga launched a two-week strike on Friday, delaying the start of the season.

It was only a question of time. Spain’s La Liga, where most of the players from World Cup champion Spain ply their trade alongside other football stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, is officially postponed.

Players from first- and second-division teams, including those from the likes of giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, started a two-week strike Friday – the first Spanish soccer strike in over a quarter century. League play was scheduled to start Saturday.

The players union wants the clubs to pay back wages owed to dozens of players, a debt that by June had reached 42 million euros ($60 million). They also want the emergency fund that protects against unpaid salaries to be increased from the current amount of 40 million euros.

The Spanish football association, representing the teams and their owners, says it can’t meet players’ terms, but the union says it won’t budge. Negotiations will continue over the weekend and throughout next week, but as it stands, the start of La Liga is indefinitely delayed.

Fans are angry with both sides, and depending on how long it lasts, the strike could disrupt the entire season because of the tight calendar teams have in other tournaments. The missed matches might have to be played over Christmas break. Many players have decided to keep training, especially from the big teams that still have to play international competitions.

Players say they are not asking for anything more than what most European leagues already have. But Spanish teams are cash-strapped, and some are being accused of mismanagement and corruption.

Spanish teams have reportedly accumulated around 4 billion euros ($5.75 billion) in debt and 11 clubs remain in technical bankruptcy as they are restructured, five of them in the top division.

None of the big clubs are affected, which means monthly salaries of more than 11 million euros for some of the stars are safe. The problem is with mid-level teams that have accrued big debts, but don’t have the cash flow of the bigger teams.

But no matter where fault lies, now fans won’t get their weekly ration of arguably the best football on the planet.

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