Madrid: Spanish football stars from teams including Barcelona and Real Madrid threatened on Thursday to go on strike from May 16 to demand fairer distribution of riches from television broadcast rights.
Following a threat by Spain's football federation to cancel key end-of-season matches, dozens of players including Barca's Andres Iniesta and Real's Sergio Ramos pledged their backing for the stoppage.
They stood shoulder to shoulder at a press conference by the AFE players' union, whose president Luis Rubiales said players would join a stoppage unless the government renegotiates a new deal on television rights.
With the players from the two top teams standing by in support, the Spanish Footballers' Association (AFE) demanded a better deal to support more modest second and third division clubs. A government reform pending approval by parliament will end the system of clubs individually negotiating the sale of rights for their matches and oblige broadcasters to bid for them collectively.
The government and the Spanish league say it will bring in more money and level the playing field in terms of television revenues. Barcelona and Real Madrid, the two richest and most successful Spanish clubs, currently earn far more in television revenues than their competitors.
Under the reform 90 percent of television rights revenues would be redistributed to the top league and 10 percent to the second division. "We demand a smaller difference in the distribution between the first and second division, as it is the case elsewhere in Europe," Rubiales said, adding that the association also wanted a better deal for the third division.
"We decided to strike not as a measure of force, but in defence against what we see as an attack on our rights." It remained unclear how likely the stoppage was to go ahead. The RFEF football federation and the players' association called on the government to negotiate before a May 16th deadline. "We are reaching out for dialogue, because no one wants this situation," Rubiales said. "But the government will have to do its bit."