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THE FREELANCE generally lacks a sport section - perhaps because the editor finds the offside rule more puzzling than quantum physics. But thanks to Zoe, a subversive videographer who's clearly more in touch with the culture, here it is.

The Freelancecalls on all NUJ members wholeheartedly to support the footballers in their battle over TV rights. And their strike, if it comes to that.

As Barry Horne of the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) told the Freelance, in early November they balloted members "asking if they would be willing to support action to get a fair and reasonable share of TV income." The large sums paid by broadcasters to the clubs, he reminded us, "are down to the players - let's not forget that."

Players remembered. Of 2315 ballots cast, 2290 backed industrial action: that's 99 per cent.

What the players demand are, in effect, performers' rights - so their battle closely parallels ours over creators' rights and fees for reproducing our work.

Football was first televised in the UK in 1955. In 1956 the players struck - and won 7·5 per cent of TV fees, payable to the PFA's Provident Fund. Since 1998, the Premier League has paid 5 per cent of hugely increased TV and pay-TV licensing fees, still to be used to support poorer players.

David Mellor, writing in the Evening Standard as players were voting, somehow forgot to spell out exactly where the money goes when he compared "a bunch of lads who earn tuppence-ha'penny risking their lives in Afghanistan to save us all from global terrorism" to "a bunch of footballers, earning a million or more a year [going] on strike". He also wheeled out that old Tory chestnut about there being no point voting for a strike because the employers would overturn the ballot in the High Court anyway.

Which they will probably try to do the moment action is called. When this was written on 12 November, the clubs had just postponed talks with the PFA. Barry Horne's position on the eventual talks is simple: "we feel that it's time, for the good of football, to bring these payments into the Leagues' Regulations, so we don't have to go through this every three or four years."

Anyway, a strike would actually be good for NUJ members who do sport for the prints - unless the clubs take a seriously postmodern position that untelevised games didn't happen. PFA chief Gordon Taylor reminds fans that games can still go ahead: "It used to be a world without [TV] cameras, a football world."

Last modified: 23 November 2001 - © 2001 contributors
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