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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Alan Smith

La Liga clubs on brink of strike as Barcelona and Real Madrid's plan takes new twist

Spanish football fans, enjoy it while you still can because after this weekend the prospect of strike action looms.

The majority of clubs are putting pressure on the government into amending a law that, they argue, threatens the future of La Liga. Barcelona and Real Madrid, who alongside Serie A’s Juventus remain publicly in favour of a Super League, are against a change to the country’s Sports Law that was initially proposed when news of a breakaway competition broke last year.

But that commitment from the government has been withdrawn in recent weeks, leading to an escalation in tensions and the growing possibility that the top two tiers grind to a halt.

PSOE, the centre left party in power, and main opposition, Partido Popular, had spoken out against the Super League and made commitments to protecting Spanish football's existing structure last spring - leading with changes to the Sports Law that would effectively give La Liga and the national federation powers that would include denying clubs a licence to operate in their competitions if they joined an unauthorised competition.

It seems almost everyone aside from Barca and Real are in favour of reinstating the amendment, with La Liga chief Javier Tebas and representatives from 15 different clubs meeting minister for sport Miquel Iceta earlier this week. There was no satisfactory resolution, however, and now the threat of a lockout is becoming real. Tebas has convened an extraordinary general meeting for next week with the strike possibly beginning straight after.

MirrorFootball spoke to David Diaz, the head of sports law at Baker McKenzie’s Madrid office, to understand how Spanish football has reached such a precarious position and attempt to predict what is likely to happen next.

La Liga chief Javier Tebas (DAVID FERNANDEZ/EPA-EFE/REX)

Why is there a lockout threat?

On the most basic level, La Liga argues that the current draft of the law undermines different aspects of independence and sustainability of professional football in Spain and lobbying has not yet led to what the majority want.

The league believes that a Super League would lead to horrific financial consequences far beyond professional football. They say that 185,000 people are employed in the game, that the top two leagues provide €4.1bn in taxes per year and a turnover equivalent to 1.37% of Spanish GDP.

But they also need Barca and Real in La Liga because the absence of the two biggest clubs, brands recognisable around the world, because of a separate closed shop competition would be disastrous.

“LaLiga heavily and fiercely opposes the Super League, that’s what lies beneath,” Diaz says. “The Sports Law comes from the early 90s, it’s really outdated and finally the government decided to push the project forward to update the legislation. It covers a lot of areas in sport - professional and amateur - and in the draft there was an amendment proposed by the two biggest parties in parliament but they have since removed it.

“The amendment was that it would prevent a club from playing in national and international competitions if that club joined another competition. It’s very broad but would give the powers to LaLiga and more importantly the federation, which is the member of UEFA and FIFA, to not grant licences to play if they are in a Super League.

“That provision has been retired and that’s why all the clubs with the exception of two believe it leaves Spanish football without one of the required protections to fight the Super League.”

So everyone except Barcelona and Real Madrid are in favour of a reinstatement?

Pretty much. There have been suggestions that Athletic Bilbao are against the amendment too but they have not specifically said that and even if they are it would be for other reasons. “It’s an institution with its own way of operating at all levels and they are well respected," Diaz says of the Basque club. "They typically have their own ways but I’m not seeing them at all supporting anything that could make a Super League take place. So it would be because of another interest but I don’t see them aligning with the two big clubs on this specific topic.”

Tebas, the direct and tough La Liga president who has recently clashed with the head of France’s Ligue 1 among others, is a central figure. But what is his popularity level across Spanish football? “He is absolutely backed by all the clubs with the exception of two," Diaz says. "He’s empowered legally and in practice to move this forward and be as vocal as possible at all levels.”

Will they follow through with a lockout?

The EGM on October 28 will determine the next steps but the fact club officials have already met with the government to lobby for the amendment to be reinstated without a resolution does not bode well.

Several pro-amendment figures have appeared on TV to outline their position, including senior executives at Cadiz, Osasuna and Real Valladolid in the past three days. Others, league sources say, will follow during fixtures on Saturday and Sunday. There are plans to display messages on digital advertising boards for this round of games, although the source indicated that those may not be seen on international broadcast feeds.

La Liga also stress that these actions are being taken by the majority of clubs themselves with the league merely acting in their interests.

Yet escalating to a refusal to fulfil fixtures would still seem like a massive jump from the current position.

“Verbally they have said that a lockout is one measure,” Diaz adds. “It would be a strike from the employers … for me that would be the red button, the ultimate recourse for the clubs to show how unhappy they are with the government.”

What will happen to the players? Are they in support of the clubs' decision?

If there is a lockout players are still expected to be paid their salaries in full. They will also likely continue training as normal with the only impact being to domestic fixtures. But with the World Cup a month away, a spell without games would unlikely appeal to those heading for Qatar.

The player’s union in Spain has remained tight-lipped up until now. “It will be interesting to see if they fully align [with the clubs] to stop playing,” Diaz says. Does he think they will? “But if [a lockout] happens, probably, yes - if it’s a short stop of one or two games.”

Employment law in Spain means the players will not be financially impacted. “They will receive their salaries. It will be an unofficial lockout so the employees, the players, will receive their salaries and probably continue training. Everything will remain the same between the players and clubs - it’s about [affecting] the competition.”

If domestic games are halted, will the teams in European competition still fulfil those fixtures?

“You never know how things unfold, no one can put their hands in the fire right now,” is Diaz’s view but it would seem highly unlikely that continental fixtures are affected. Not least because if a club was to not fulfil a Champions League or a Europa League fixture, they would face severe repercussions from UEFA. It would also damage the pro-amendment clubs in the PR stakes.

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