Italy’s Soccer Players, Government Tangle Over New Tax

Italy recently approved a new “solidarity tax” for high income earners. The country’s soccer players don’t want to cough up the cash. Impatient, the government fired back by calling the players “a caste of spoiled people.”

Italy's soccer players are national heroes, and tend to be well paid
Italy's soccer players are national heroes, and tend to be well paid
Guglielmo Buccheri

ROME -- Italian soccer players have taken the field for an unusual match – not against one of their classic European rivals, but against a new "solidarity tax."

The tax, approved recently by the Italian government, will charge an extra 5% on annual incomes of over 90,000 euros. Italians earning more than 150,000 euros – a category that includes many of the country's professional soccer players – will have to pay a 10% tax.

Italy's soccer idols are up in arms, and making no secret about their opposition to the new solidarity tax. Rumors have swirled that the players might even strike. Earlier this week the players' union, AIC, stated publicly that players will pay the extra tax only in cases in which their contracts mention gross salaries. If the contracts mention net salaries, the compensation should remain the same, said the union. The soccer clubs, in other words, should be responsible for shelling out the extra tax.

The Italian government has answered the AIC's challenge by sending in one if its own hard hitters, the notoriously controversial Roberto Calderoli, minister for legislative simplification.

"If they continue to threaten strikes or retaliation, I'll propose that, just like the politicians, the soccer players pay a double extra tax. No more 5 and 10%, but 10 and 20%. Then they'll have a real reason to complain," he said.

"The players are throwing a tantrum," Calderoli went on to say. "I don't know if the solidarity tax is fair or not, but if anybody should pay it without issues, the players should. They represent a caste of spoiled people who don't pay tax because the clubs pay in place of them."

"The players didn't understand that this is a law of the State. If they will strike, the soccer fans will strike back against these spoiled children. We'll go to the stadium to see the matches of First Division instead of the Premier League" Calderoli said.

The Italian government approved the tax as part of an austerity package to ease EU and market concerns about Italy's high rate of public debt. Authorities are calling on all Italians to make a sacrifice. The soccer players, it would seem, prefer that their employers make the sacrifice for them.

The players' union now finds itself on the defensive. "The footballers are a spoiled caste? That's ridiculous." Said AIC's vice-president, Leo Grosso, who continues to insist that in the case of net salary contracts, clubs pay the extra tax. "The members of our association are employees and they have to follow the same rules of all the other employees," he said.

Given that the majority of the deals between clubs and players mention net salaries, according to this interpretation of the law, the clubs will have to pay the extra tax in almost every case.

Not everyone in Italy's soccer world, however, agrees with the AIC. Maurizio Beretta, president of the Serie A soccer league, called on everyone "to be reasonable," and insisted the AIC "invite its members to play their part."

"I don't like these distinctions between gross and net salary," he said. "A one-off contribution is asked of those people who receive a salary above a certain figure. Asking the clubs to pay does not make any sense."

It is worth noting that for all the hubbub the solidarity tax is causing among the country's soccer players, Italy's basketball players have been pretty quiet on the issue. Basketball is the only other big-time professional sport in Italy. "If the law says that we have to pay, we will pay," stated a note from the union of the basketball players.

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - NaturalBlu

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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