Wayne Rooney is the latest high-profile player to criticise the British government for scapegoating footballers in regards to taking voluntary pay-cuts in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
His rebuttal comes after the United Kingdom’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, said at a briefing on Thursday that Premier League stars should “play their part” by accepting a cut.
The National Health Service has been under immense strain as a result of the patient influx caused by COVID-19, while the government’s failure to provide sufficient testing and ventilators has been widely panned.
Derby County midfielder Rooney—who made 559 appearances for Manchester United and scored a record 53 goals for England—wrote in the Sunday Times that the reaction to the pandemic has become “a disgrace:”
“If the government approached me to help support nurses financially or buy ventilators I’d be proud to do so, as long as I knew where the money was going. I’m in a position where I could give something up. Not every footballer is in the same position.
“Yet suddenly the whole profession has been put on the spot with a demand for 30% pay cuts across the board. Why are footballers suddenly the scapegoats? How the past few days have played out is a disgrace.”
The Sunday Times' Jonathan Northcroft echoed Rooney's sentiment:
Newcastle United defender Danny Rose—on loan from Tottenham Hotspur—told BBC Radio 5 Live he had “no problems whatsoever” giving up part of his salary to help ease the NHS burden. However, he added footballers felt their “backs are against the wall” following the comments made by the health minister.
The decision to direct attention towards footballers in a time of crisis has been criticised, with many pointing out bigger businesses and higher earners haven’t been asked to do the same.
Virgin founder Richard Branson—who has a net worth of $3.7 billion, per Forbes—requested a £500 million bailout for his Atlantic airline due to the coronavirus. Jim Pickard of the Financial Times asked Hancock on Sunday whether this would be granted, but the health secretary refused to answer the question, via the Guardian’s Paul Johnson:
“He [Hancock] was supposed to be giving the nation the latest on the biggest crisis we’ve faced in our lifetimes. Why was the pay of footballers even in his head? Was he desperate to divert attention from his government’s handling of this pandemic?”
The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) released a statement on Saturday saying the proposed 30 percent pay-cut for top-flight players would actually harm NHS staff. The £500 million reduction over a 12-month period would result in £200 million less going to the government, urging donations to go directly to NHS hospices instead.