Since its onset, the COVID-19 pandemic has spread to almost all countries of the world. Social and physical distancing measures, lockdowns of businesses, schools and overall social life, which have become commonplace to the spread of the disease, have also disrupted many regular aspects of life, including physical activity.
As the world hopes to recover from COVID-19, there will be significant issues to be addressed to ensure the safety of our sporting events at all levels and the well-being of our sporting organizations in Gibraltar. In the short term, these will include the adaptation of events to ensure the safety of athletes, fans and vendors, among others. In the medium term, in the face of an anticipated global recession, there may also be a need to take measures to support participation in sporting organizations, particularly for youth sports.
When life has finally returned to normal, I think football will change for the better. We should see the reversal of a power balance that has swung the wrong way for too long, switching it back in favour of the clubs. I would certainly expect that to happen in all countries and not just in Gibraltar, where the financial implications of COVID-19 are hitting particularly hard. Players and agents will have to lower their expectations, and we will see fewer instances of football clubs being held to ransom over deals and contracts.
Anyone going in saying, ‘This guy wants this money, and I want this amount for doing the deal’, might have to face a new reality. Do you want the club to go out of existence, and then there’s no club to play at? If agents ask too much then clubs will say: ‘No problem, we’ll do something else.’
Mass gatherings around the world look like the very last port of call but I think a positive knock-on effect will ultimately be that fans and players are brought closer together, and the atmosphere in our Victoria stadium could improve even further.
Being cynical, I think you have to say a lot of clubs in Gibraltar will see this as a decent opportunity to reboot. It is hard to argue against that happening in a lot of cases, if you take out the emotion and passion of it. Club owners have seen their own businesses decimated overnight. Given owners are going to be hit in the long term, I really think it could be another 10 years before we get back to a financial level similar to now.
I think there will be a correction and prudent approach generally but I’m not convinced that clubs that qualify for UEFA competition won’t continue to pay top dollar for top players. I still think we will see big fees. If you look at the last five to 10 years, there has been an incredible rise in the scale of National League wages, which affects clubs like ours who continuously fight from being a position away from changing our full business model. The market has run away with itself.
It’s a scary time for all of us in Gibraltar. There’s going to be less money in the game and fewer jobs. Offers will be smaller, especially at our level. People are going to have to take cuts. You also have to think about the future. If there isn’t any football after contracts expire you have to find a job. If football doesn’t start until later in the year, you’re not going to get paid for three or four months so it’s time to get into the real world. If football’s not on, there’s no one to coach or scout and many sporting individuals will have to look outside the sport.
I believe the early days of our return in Gibraltar may see change, whether that is the attendance in the Victoria stadium or how we travel to UEFA matches. But as not many people like change even when it’s for the better, if there is any long term it will, for sure, happen slowly. I think we may well eventually return to how things were.
These are unprecedented times where imagination has to come in, and I think the present situation may breed a more creative kind of scouting. Clubs will put more energy into looking for bargains lower down the divisions in other countries, or in smaller foreign leagues. You’re always trying to find a hidden gem but the rewards for reaching beyond the obvious may be even greater now.
Top players and their agents will still command big money, and it won’t affect owners at the top tier of the National league as much but there will be changes until the Gibraltar Football economy recovers. For players coming through the ranks, even at National League level, there are likely to be lower salaries and more incentivised contracts.
If there are more incentivised contracts and less money guaranteed, then clubs will have to be more open in terms of their budgets and commercial income. There’s a danger some clubs might use the crisis to low-ball players and that’s risky because they may lose out to other clubs willing to pay. But this could be a reset for football with young, hungry talent coming through. Owners still want to win, ultimately and qualify for UEFA competition, and after two or three years of taking stock they will dig deep again.
We are positive that we will recover but we will inevitably see the gap between ‘big’ clubs and smaller sides in the Gibraltar national league widening as the wealthier teams recover more easily. The COVID-19 pandemic has had and will continue to have very considerable effects on the sporting world as well as on the physical and mental well-being of people around the world, but we will continue to capitalize on the benefits that sport and physical activity can bring in the age of COVID-19 and beyond.