Football: Spain govt says league strike harms game

Football: Spain govt says league strike harms game

MADRID - A threat by footballers in Spain to strike in a dispute over the sharing of riches from television rights harms the game and its precious revenues, the government warned Friday.

Players from top teams, including Barcelona and Real Madrid, on Thursday joined in a threat to boycott the last games of the season if the government does not renegotiate a reform of football broadcasting rights.

"The football world is concerned about possible missed opportunities and the damage that this threat of a strike is already doing to football's image and its capacity to market itself internationally," Spain's junior sports minister Miguel Cardenal said in an interview with conservative newspaper ABC.

The RFEF federation which governs the sport in Spain and the AFE players' union have threatened an open-ended strike from May 16.

They say they are not happy with the way a new law redistributes revenues from auctioning the television broadcasting rights to lucrative Liga football games.

The government insisted the long-awaited reform offered a better deal for poorer lower-league clubs but the federation and players said it did not go far enough.

The deal obliges broadcasters to bid collectively for the rights to matches rather than letting clubs negotiate with the media individually as previously.

The previous system favoured the richest and most successful clubs, Real and Barcelona.

The government insisted that under the new system revenues would filter down to the lower clubs and prevent the best players from migrating to richer leagues abroad.

"Objectively, there is nothing in this decree of law that can justify a measure of this kind. There is no real reason for a strike," Cardenal was quoted as saying in ABC.

He said the federation had been offered a say in the reform and complained that it had not detailed the grounds for its objections.

"The federation should explain, as it still has not done, what it is that it doesn't like about this law, which it has repeatedly asked for, and what has led it to change its position by surprise," he said.

"Any broadcaster who might be interested in buying match rights now will not understand the situation." The Spanish league branded the strike threat "irresponsible" and said it would launch a legal appeal against it on Friday.

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