As if to prove that petty political squabbling does not have to take a break even during a pandemic, the balconies of Buenos Aires this past week have doubled as a staging post for a curious battle of noises.
Alongside the nightly applause for health workers, and most notably in the city’s more affluent neighbourhoods, one may hear a cacophony of clanking pots and pans wielded by residents demanding politicians take a significant pay cut during the Covid-19 outbreak and quarantine; elsewhere, or even in the same zones, those in favour of Alberto Fernández’s administration might respond with applause, insults or even a full-blooded rendition of the Peronist March, resulting in a confused round of sounds that cannot help but assault the eardrums of any bemused listener.
Presidents, governors, ministers, lawmakers and senators belong to a group of which it is considered correct and justified to question and scrutinise every penny they earn for their duties. Perhaps the only other profession in which such matters are discussed with such vehemence is in the world of football, whose top proponents have also experienced heavy pressure to give up their wages during this crisis.
Footballers, of course, are used to such criticism. Few elite players have negotiated their careers without seeing their salaries shared out between hypothetical doctors, teachers, MRI machines and other public assets. The sight of a young working class lad driving a Ferrari or top of the line Mercedes thanks to his talent on the field is enough to send even the most strident libertarian running towards a dusty old copy of Das Kapital.
In a world of million-dollar dividends and bonuses for even the most incompetent executive, and in which multinational companies routinely flout labour, environmental and tax laws in their efforts to push profit margins even higher, it is the spending of these lucky few beneficiaries of the system to come from the lower reaches of society that seems to provoke most outrage.
If a player is willing to give up part of his wages at this tough time, of course that is to be applauded. Income is scarce across the football world due to the paralysis of activities and this inaction is likely to fall hardest on two vulnerable groups: teams from lower leagues already running on tiny budgets; and the thousands of club employees that work away from the pitch and without whom the game could not function.
Carlos Tevez for one is willing to collaborate, telling América TV: “A footballer can live six months, a year [without a salary]. They don’t have the day-to-day desperation of a kid who goes out at 6am and comes back at 7pm to feed their family. We are not an example in that case, but we are in others. We have to be there to help, go to the community kitchens. It is easy for us to talk from home, knowing I have food for my kids.”
Tevez, of course, belongs to the lucky few in football who – thanks to his long years in England, Italy and China – enjoy total financial security. That is not true of all players, not even in the Argentine top flight. “I heard that a footballer can go six months or year without pay – that is a lie,” Arsenal de Sarandí’s Emiliano Méndez fired. “Maybe he could because he invested his money with his friends, like the ex-president [Mauricio Macri]. You have to talk responsibly, not place everyone in the same boat because we are not there.”
Players’ Union president Sergio Marchi is thinking along similar lines, blasting unnamed club chiefs who “are seeking excuses or mitigating factors for their bad management or to their flawed behaviour when it comes to setting up a budget.”
The truth of the matter is that Argentina’s football clubs, for all the flak they receive and all their administrative failings, work tirelessly as social as well as sporting institutions. Almost every side is enormously active in the community, running football and regular schools, community kitchens, anti-drug programmes and many more laudable causes in some of the country’s most deprived barrios.
The players too give up significant portions of their time on hospital visits to young fans and similar ventures and generally give far more back than any top executive or business mogul. Just like politicians, they are an easy target, continually in the public eye and with few secrets in this age of the 24 hour news cycle and exhausting minute coverage; but while any gesture to help those in need pull through this crisis is more than welcome, suggesting that these young men should feel guilty for continuing to pick up pay cheques does not aid anyone – certainly, the idea that they have a moral obligation from which other high earners are excused misses the mark entirely.