By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - The players union representing Premier League footballers has questioned the league's call for a 30% player wage reduction amid the coronavirus crisis, saying it would reduce tax revenue for the National Health Service.
The stance taken by the union raises the prospect of a damaging public wrangle over the salaries of some of the best paid footballers in the world at a time when Britain is facing a major public health crisis.
The union's apparent reluctance to endorse player wage reductions emerged after Premier League leaders and European champions Liverpool joined other clubs in announcing they had furloughed some of their non-playing staff.
This would make them eligible for public money through the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
"Concerned about the turn football talks have taken tonight," Oliver Dowden, Britain's Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, wrote on twitter.
"People do not want to see infighting in our national sport at a time of crisis. Football must play its part to show that the sport understands the pressures its lower paid staff, communities and fans face."
Player representatives of the 20 Premier League clubs and officials from the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) union met with the Premier League on Saturday.
The clubs had agreed on Friday to consult their players regarding a combination of conditional wage reductions and deferrals amounting to 30 percent of total annual pay.
The league outlined the possible financial damage that could be caused if the season does not resume, having been frozen due to the coronavirus outbreak since March 13.
The league warned that broadcasters could demand 762 million pounds ($934 million) in refunds on games that they would not be able to show. Losses in sponsorship and matchday revenue would also impact the game.
The talks on Saturday were not described as a negotiation and no decision was expected to be taken, but the PFA issued a lengthy statement, not attributed to any official, which questioned the logic of the league's stance.
"The players are mindful that... the combined tax on their salaries is a significant contribution to funding essential public services - which are especially critical at this time," the statement said.
"Taking a 30% salary deduction will cost the Exchequer substantial sums. This would be detrimental to our NHS and other government-funded services."
The PFA added that the proposed 30% salary deduction over a 12-month period would equate to over 500 million pounds in wage reductions and a loss in tax contributions of over 200 million to the government.
The 20 Premier League captains held a conference call on Thursday to discuss ways in which they could make a contribution or donation.
The PFA, which is mainly funded via Premier League broadcast revenue payments, said that the players wanted to provide financial help.
"All Premier League players want to, and will, play their part in making significant financial contributions in these unprecedented times," the statement said.
"All Premier League players fully appreciate their role and responsibilities in society during this current crisis. They care deeply for those who are suffering with loss, health and hardship at the moment."
The union said that the players want to ensure their financial contributions support the clubs they play for, non-playing staff, lower league clubs and the NHS.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)