Brazilian Players Reject Pay Cuts, Restart Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

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SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazilian footballers are protesting lawmakers’ attempts to cut their pay, and some say they will play again only after they are reassured by health authorities.

The players’ actions on Monday came as some Brazilian clubs push to restart the season despite the still-spreading coronavirus, which has caused more than 7,000 known deaths. The peak of the crisis in Brazil’s public health care system is expected this month.

Soccer was halted in most of Brazil on March 15, with some minor leagues continuing for another week.

The bill that Brazilian lawmakers are trying to pass includes a proposed reduction of 50% in pay on termination of players’ contracts. Some top-flight clubs have already reached deals to reduce wages by up to 30% during the pandemic, but executives insist that is not enough to ensure they survive.

A group of 16 first division players, including Felipe Melo of Palmeiras, Diego of Flamengo, and Leandro Castán of Roma released a video late Monday stating their case.

“We have different realities in our class. Most of us only work three months a year, 95% are paid less than two minimum wages,” the players said in the video. “Changing laws without listening to us? That is not cool. We are here and we need to be heard.

“The Brazilian people love soccer and want it back, we also love it and we want to return. We are all for work, but we need to think about the health of all of us.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has shown an unscientific approach in the fight against the pandemic, says soccer would already be back if the choice was his alone.

Coaches and players discreetly showed their opposition during April, as they went into vacations, but they have begun speaking out due to the calls to resume trainings.

Southern giants Grêmio and Internacional have announced players will go back to training within days. Copa Libertadores champion Flamengo is also considering a return, but stopped after a staff member who worked at the club for 40 years died of COVID-19 on Monday.