Italy: Footballers have right to strike


When I heard about the strike that was planned by Italian Football players in Serie A league on September 25 and 26 (but has been postponed), I wondered what familiar refrains would be used to attack it.

The inevitable “millionaires complaining about their conditions” line was put by Yahoo Sports football blogger Brooks Peck in a September 12 piece.

Peck’s article mocks the idea that the “rights” of “lavishly paid” players are being violated: “This is Cambodian sweatshop type stuff.” reported on September 10 that Serie A president Maurizio Beretta echoed these sentiments: “It’s a terrible sign for all the other categories in this country facing very serious economic problems.”

But football player wages aren’t the cause of the “serious economic problems”, nor will improving their conditions worsen the situation for other victims of these problems.

Rather, the strike is about proposals that seek to benefit some of Italy’ wealthiest men.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, owner of AC Milan, is worth US$9.4 billion, according to Forbes magazine. Massimo Moratti, president of Internazionale, is an oil tycoon.

The strike is over some basic rights. CNN said on September 13: “The current stalemate occurred when a collective contract between the AIC [the Players Association] and the league, guaranteeing players’ rights, expired during the summer and talks on a new deal failed.

“The sticking point is that clubs want the power to be able to sell players in the final year of their contract and, if a player refuses, he must buy out his contract at 50 per cent of its worth.”

Under such a rule, a player must move clubs if his club accepts an offer for his transfer in the last year of his contract. If a player doesn’t to want move, he must pay for his club to sack him.

There are eight points in dispute. The AIC has said two are non-negotiable, the final year of contract rule and the proposed banning of unwanted players from training.

AC Milan defender Massimo Oddo said the strike was against “current aims to reduce the status of players to simple objects”. All players have vowed to support a strike.

Club presidents are trying to roll back rights won by players over decades.

A 2008 Irish Left Review article wrote about the actions of French footballers in 1968: “In a long-forgotten incident, a hundred or so footballers occupied the headquarters of the French Football Federation … to demand reforms to contractual conditions that had previously meant, in effect, indentured players being unable to choose their club at the end of their contract.”

The culmination of this struggle was the 1995 European Court of Justice ruling that football players have freedom of movement and association within Europe.

When a player’s contract ended, they were free to move to a club of their choice. This basic right is now in danger of being taken away in Italy.

Why should a player be forced to move from Cagilari to Rome if they don’t want to? A player may have many reasons not to want to transfer, professional or personal.

Support for Italian clubs is often divided along political lines. Napoli striker Christiano Lucarelli, a proud communist, is unlikely to want to move to Lazio, which has hardcore fascist support.

Players aren’t stocks to be traded at will but humans who should decide where they will live and work. Players have a right to say “no” — even if they are well paid.

[Tim Dobson posts on politics and sport at , where a longer version of this article can be found.]