Page last updated at 18:37 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 19:37 UK

Argentina's football debt crisis

By Candace Piette
BBC News, Buenos Aires

Players from the Argentine football clubs Velez Sarsfield and Huracan clash during the last days of the country's 2008-09 football season, 5 July 2009
Argentine teams make money from selling players to European clubs

The Argentine Football Association has announced that the start of the country's football season will be postponed because of clubs' growing debt.

The premiership - Primera A - was due to start on 14 August.

Last week, AFA President Julio Grondona postponed all the second division and regional games, saying the delay would give the clubs time to find millions of dollars in back-pay for players.

Twenty-one clubs are struggling with debt, including seven in the first division. The country's most famous teams - Boca Juniors and River Plate - are among the clubs affected.

European recession

Mr Grondona said that part of the reason for the clubs' debt problems was the global economic downturn.

European clubs - where many of the best Argentine footballers play - have been reducing their purchases of Argentine players because of the recession.

"The recession in Europe is making it very difficult for Argentine clubs, who very much depend on the sale of players," Mr Grondona told reporters last week.

"Clubs aren't getting what they usually get."

But many analysts in Argentina say that the real problem is the clubs' gross mismanagement of finances.

And Mr Grondona admits that the AFA may also have played a part in the financial chaos by bailing out the clubs in the past when they got into financial difficulties.

Families no longer go to football matches
Eric Verschoor
Club Atletico Velez Sarsfield fan

"[The clubs'] resources are now very low. Perhaps I was overly generous in the past, I gave them money, or rather AFA did, and this has given them the chance to spend even more," he said.

Critics of Mr Grondona argue that the AFA is also partly to blame for the current crisis by failing to help clubs organise themselves efficiently.

"Here club directors change constantly, they are elected and re-elected from within the club by their members," says Raul Gamez, former president of Club Atletico Velez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires.

The AFA should represent club interests rather than its own, says Mr Gamez, particularly in the sphere of television rights.

"The AFA should be fighting for clubs to get the largest share of television rights money and not keep it for itself," he says.

For their part, Mr Grondona and the AFA appear to be working hard to obtain a bigger share of TV rights.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday night, an AFA spokesman said that the postponement of the football would allow more time for negotiations to continue between the AFA and the authorities that manage TV rights.

The rights are not due to be reviewed until 2014.

Driven away

Sports analysts say the growing role of the "Barra Bravas" - violent groups of fans who demand money from the clubs in return for their unconditional support - is another factor contributing to the clubs' debt problems.

The "Barra Bravas" have been driving many ordinary supporters away from the stadiums, reducing clubs' incomes.

Eric Verschoor is a life-long fan and member of Club Atletico Velez Sarsfield. He has seen the "Barra Bravas" threatening directors and players with violence, getting involved in player transfer deals and ticket touting.

"Since everything has turned into a business, there are lots of power struggles and increasing violent deaths within the 'Barra Bravas'," he said.

"Innocent people get caught in the middle, so families no longer go to football matches."

Raul Gamez thinks that the AFA should deal with the violence within football, not the clubs.

"We've had 40 years of gradually increasing violence within Argentine football, and it's an extremely complex social issue," he says.

"The AFA should pay more attention to this."

By cancelling the Argentinians' beloved football a week before the main championship is due to begin, it seems clear that the AFA is trying to put pressure on the authorities responsible for TV rights to pass over more money to the clubs.

But it is also putting pressure on the clubs themselves to clean up their act and stay within their budgets.

Analysts say this may mean - in the short term - clubs buying younger, cheaper players and making lower salary deals.

In a light swipe at players' salaries, Mr Grondona suggested they could handle pay cuts easily since they were paid in dollars, giving them a very favourable exchange rate against the Argentine peso.

"Here players ask for dollars but live in Argentina using pesos," he explained.

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