OSLO, Mar 18 (Reuters) - Professional footballers in Norway have been temporarily laid off as clubs struggle to cope with the economic impact of the spread of coronavirus, with the government stepping in to cover wages, players’ union NISO has told Reuters.
With stadiums closed and uncertainty over TV revenues, clubs in other countries have issued financial warnings as the virus continues to spread, and Norway is believed to be the first country to announce such sweeping temporary layoffs.
While clubs in countries like England and Spain can pay top players and managers huge salaries backed by lucrative TV deals and sponsorship agreements, teams in smaller European countries often live on the edge, trying to pay competitive wages while balancing the books.
Norwegian football acted quickly as the virus took hold, quarantining players who had been abroad for 14 days, cancelling the national team’s Euro 2020 playoff with Serbia and suspending all football activity including training.
The temporary layoffs are the next step in protecting the long-term future of the game, said Joachim Walltin, who is the director of NISO.
“They are only temporarily laid off at the discretion of their clubs and it is because the authorities have decided that all sports activities, including training, will be stopped until March 26 - they are not dismissed, but are not allowed to work for a temporary period,” Walltin explained.
“The authorities have provided emergency packages to help and anyone earning between 75,000 and 600,000 Norwegian crowns ($7,000 and $55,000) per year will receive full pay for up to 20 days - what happens after March 26, we must wait and see.”
While Norway has hosted some well-known names, like former Denmark international Nicklas Bendtner, salaries are usually a lot lower than those on offer in bigger European leagues, despite the relatively high taxes and cost of living.
Young players on modest deals and non-Norwegians on short-term contracts are particularly vulnerable.
“Those who earn less than 75,000 crowns and foreign players who do not have a contract of 12 months or more will not be entitled to unemployment benefits, and we and club organisations and federations have encouraged the clubs to pay special attention to these players,” Walltin said.
Despite the special circumstances, the union boss said that the layoffs, which apply to men and women at the elite levels of the game in Norway, did not mean that players were free to leave their clubs if they were not paid on time.
“It is a rather special solution for Norway, and they cannot be automatically transferred to other countries. The authorities are paying many, many billions to help people who are laid off and that helps, of course,” Walltin said.
($1 = 10.7547 Norwegian crowns)
Reporting by Philip O'Connor in Stockholm; Editing by Ken Ferris