Federal health minister Maggie De Block is reported to be considering scrapping social security advantages granted to professional football players, following the continuing revelations of corruption and match-fixing in the investigation known as Footgate or Operation Clean Hands (a reference to the Italian operation Mani Pulite against the Mafia in the 1990s). First-class football clubs make a substantial saving every year on reductions of social security contributions (RSZ), worth a total of €7o million a year, as well as cuts in corporation charges worth another €57 million. The latter concession is supposed to be used by clubs for investment in youth projects.
Clubs who pay their players the most receive the lion’s share of the benefits. From the total of €70 million RSZ concessions in a year, Anderlecht alone reaps €20 million, followed by Standard on €8.4 million and Club Brugge on €7.9 million.
When the allegations in Footgate first emerged, De Block, together with finance minister Johan Van Overtveldt and employment minister Kris Peeters, together considered the question of concessions for football clubs. De Block is now closer to taking action.
“As soon as the Clean Hands affair came to light, I put the sector on alert,” De Block said. “Football has to get its house in order, otherwise politicians will not hesitate to cast doubt on the RSZ concession. Everyone seems convinced something has to be done. What we have seen this week causes me to be anything but hopeful.”
Kris Peeters, however, called for the football sector to be given time to sort out its own problems before the government takes any steps. De Block is less than impressed by efforts so far. After a long session of talks this week, the Football Union came forward with only two minor proposals.
“I asked for a sign, but I didn’t get one,” she said later. “Since concrete results are not forthcoming, I have asked my department to work out a proposal to get rid of, or at least reduce, the RSZ concession.”