Richmond vice-captain Jack Riewoldt has defended the AFL players amid their ongoing pay negotiations with the sport’s governing body.
Players have offered to take a 50 per cent pay cut while clubs are out of action, with the competition on hold until at least May 31.
However, it is believed the AFL is not satisfied with that figure, with News Corp reporting the league will push for a 75 per cent cut in the coming months as the league faces the biggest financial crisis in its history.
On Tuesday, AFL great Leigh Matthews told 3AW’s Sportsday he’d “lost a lot of respect for this collective playing group over the last two months.”
Riewoldt said Matthews’ comments were “irresponsible” and “really disappointing” and players didn’t want to make a decision on their pay beyond the current shutdown period until they knew whether football would return.
Players would likely have to take even bigger wage cuts if the remainder of the season was abandoned altogether, which remains a distinct possibility in uncertain times.
“At the moment we’ve put a position to the AFL that says ‘look, let’s re-evaluate in 10 weeks’ time’ – probably six weeks’ time I think – because we’ll know what’s going on with COVID-19,” Riewoldt said on Fox Footy’s AFL 360.
“But people shouldn’t be under any illusion that we’re gonna go, ‘no, no – we want to be paid fully then.’
“If the game isn’t going, we understand that there is a massive role for the players to take here if the game doesn’t get up and going in this year.
“There’ll be plenty of other cuts – we may see lists cut, we may see players’ jobs lost. So we totally understand that.”
Riewoldt emphasised players had been willing to push through a full 22-game season to shore up money for the whole game.
“It’s a direct correlation – $50m to $100m a round is lost when we don’t play footy. If we play five less rounds, say $250m – they’re the jobs that are being cut now,” he said.
“So we’re not saying ‘we definitely want to play this’, we’re saying ‘if you need us to play 22 games in a shortened time, we’re happy to do it. Because we don’t want jobs to be lost.
“It’s a pretty simple equation, it’s: more games, more money, more people have jobs.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire urged AFL decision makers not to “screw the players” in the pay negotiations.
The AFL and its 18 clubs have slashed staff numbers by roughly 80 per cent in a brutal phase of job cuts and stand downs.
AFL executives, including chief executive Gillon McLachlan, are taking a minimum 20 per cent pay cut.
All remaining staff at the AFL will have reduced hours during the season’s suspension, while casual workers have been let go.
According to a News Corp report, Geelong coach Chris Scott has offered to forgo his entire pay packet while the competition is shut down.
All 18 senior coaches had earlier volunteered to take 20 per cent pay cuts, while Brisbane’s Chris Fagan will reportedly take a 50 per cent cut until football is back.