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Soccer players up in arms over proposed contract cuts

In the latest round of developments hurtling Greek professional soccer toward financial chaos, Greece’s cash-strapped clubs yesterday retreated from a decision last week to trim player salaries by 20 percent across the board after players adamantly rejected the prospect. Players threatened to go on strike if the cost-cutting measures were implemented. The step back emerged from a meeting between officials representing three leading clubs, Panathinaikos President Angelos Filippidis, Olympiakos spokesman Petros Kokkalis, and AEK strongman Makis Psomiadis. Earlier in the day, the soccer players’ union ruled out the prospect of any salary cuts. Following an extraordinary meeting, the union’s boss, Antonis Antoniadis, was quoted as saying that player salaries would not be negotiated. «If any player is affected by this decision, our reaction will be coordinated,» Antoniadis warned the club owners. The deep financial crisis threatening the future of Greek clubs was sparked by the collapse – on the eve of the season’s opening – of Alpha Digital TV, which had contracts with most clubs. Lost revenues for clubs are estimated at about 35 million euros annually. A labyrinth of seemingly worsening events has since unfolded, culminating in a monthlong strike launched by EPAE, Greece’s association of professional soccer clubs, at the end of September, after the government refused to bail teams out of the pay-TV station’s collapse. Yesterday, in an attempt to discharge some of the mounting tension, the three club officials that were meeting attributed the current crisis to a pre-emptive communications blunder made by EPAE’s chief, Thanassis Kanellopoulos. The trio claimed the EPAE chief went public with the proposed salary cut before a final decision had been formulated. Filippidis, Panathinaikos’s chief, also argued that players would actually benefit from salary cuts as a result of the reduced income taxes they would be obliged to pay. However, informed sources contend that a prolonged crisis, which could eventually force frustrated players to take strike action, is being sought by club owners as part of a covert strategy to avoid another legal confrontation possibly heading their way. Should owners prolong their own boycott of league games, OPAP, the state-run soccer lottery, would probably take legal action claiming loss of revenue. A clause in a contract binding OPAP and EPAE stipulates that the state-run lottery has the right to take legal action to compensate for revenue losses as a result of the league’s disruption.