Open Europe Blog

So the eurozone crisis has made it to the one place where it is guaranteed to hit home – the sports pages. The main page of the sports section in yesterday’s Bild ran with the headline, “Will German taxpayers eventually have to fork out for Messi and Ronaldo?”

The fear, said Bild, is that the Spanish government is about to authorise a ‘debt amnesty’ for Spain’s professional football clubs – including Barcelona and Real Madrid. A “crazy idea”, said the paper, as forfeiting money owed to the Spanish government by various football clubs, could further increase the country’s already pretty scary deficit. This should worry readers of the sports section, the paper continued, as should Spain hit the iceberg and be forced to seek a Greece-style rescue package, then German taxpayers would effectively, albeit indirectly, be bailing out Barça and Real.

Far-fetched? Most certainly, but the story caught our attention for four reasons:

  • Over at Open Europe, we have developed a slight obsession with Bild (the best barometer of German public opinion)
  • That Germany’s largest-selling newspaper includes, in its sports section, a line on the recent discussions over Spain’s deficit targets shows that the euro crisis is now as much of a household issue as they come
  • If Madrid was to cancel all or part of the money that Spanish football clubs owe it, that could actually leave a hole in Spain’s public finances, given the size of the balance sheets of some of these clubs (which are notoriously over-leveraged).
  • Closer to home (which at OE includes Newcastle, Wisla Krakow and Napoli), the move could, shock horror, also give Spanish football clubs an additional advantage over European clubs

As expected, after a bit of fact-checking and cross-checking with the Spanish press, it turns out that Bild‘s story is largely a matter of ‘lost in translation’. Here’s what we’ve got:

  • Following a parliamentary question by Caridad García, an MP from the Izquierda Unida (United Left) party, the Spanish government has recently revealed that Spain’s professional football clubs owe an impressive €759 million to the country’s Tax Agency – of which almost €490 million is owed by clubs in the Primera División (the Spanish Premier League).
  • Asked how the Spanish government was planning to address the issue, Sports Minister Miguel Cardenal said that a plan is currently being put together to “make this debt disappear (hacer desaparecer esta deuda, in Spanish) within a reasonable time frame”. Now, we suspect that this is where misunderstanding arose.
  • Though subject to dispute, Don Miguel may simply have meant that, in a way or another, football clubs will have to pay their debt quickly, or face sanctions, such as loss of points in the league table, forced relegation, and so forth. During the same interview, he made clear that “football clubs’ debt will be paid by football clubs”. Again this morning, he insisted that “no debt will be forgiven” for Spanish football clubs.

In other words, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund’s fans can sleep peacefully. They are not going to foot the bill for The Flea and CR7’s multi-million wages…

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