In club vs. country, who should pay the bill?

Arsenal wouldn’t get a penny in compensation from France or

Wales if Samir Nasri or Aaron Ramsey are hurt playing for their

national teams on Tuesday. Yet the London club could get a tidy

insurance payout if Jack Wilshere picks up an injury marshaling

England’s midfield against Ghana.

Such are the bizarre vagaries and inconsistencies of injury

insurance and compensation in football. No wonder, then, that

Europe’s top clubs want changes from world governing body FIFA.

Most national sides don’t insure players against injury because,

under FIFA’s rules, they don’t have to. Instead, FIFA makes clubs

foot the bill. Not only must clubs release players for national

duties, they must insure them against injury and accidents while

they are away and continue to cover their wages when players return

limping from national matches and training camps. That is like

being obliged to lend your car to a friend and being forced to pay

the repairs if he slams it into a wall.

”It’s a very abnormal situation,” says Michele Centenaro,

general secretary of the European Club Association that represents

nearly 200 of the continents’ leading clubs.

The ECA wants FIFA instead to take out a collective insurance

that would pay clubs compensation when players return injured from

national duty, helping to cover their wages – which these days are

often massive – while they are sidelined. Centenaro says such a

measure could help thaw the sometimes fraught relations between

national teams and the clubs they rely on to lend them players.

”It’s not really about money, it’s about the principle,” he

said in a phone interview. ”It would release tensions and relax

situations when it comes to calling players and clubs releasing

players. We have difficulty to understand how there cannot be an

easy solution.”

Players are proud to represent their countries. A national

call-up is prestigious for players’ clubs, too. But it does not

seem fair that they solely should have to pay for that honor.

Jean-Michel Aulas, president of French side Lyon, suggests clubs

could dig in their heels against national demands and ”no longer

accept the release of players systematically” if a solution isn’t

found.

A collective insurance scheme would be ”nothing more than

logical and normal,” Centenaro says more diplomatically.

Another of the current system’s flaws is that it is unevenly

applied.

England’s Football Association does insure against player

injury, but that makes it one of the few. The FA opts to do so

”because of our relationship with the clubs; we are borrowing

their assets” and because it is lucky enough to be able to afford

such coverage, says its general secretary, Alex Horne. The FA’s

insurance pays up to 100,000 pounds (?114,000; US$160,000) per

week, for up to 100 weeks, to clubs to help cover their wages when

players are hurt on England duty, Horne said in an interview.

That means that if Tottenham, which is heavily committed in the

Champions League and Premier League, is unlucky enough to lose

Peter Crouch, Aaron Lennon or Jermain Defoe to injury for England

against Ghana on Tuesday, then at least the club should see some

cash.

France, however, won’t compensate Chelsea or Arsenal or any club

should Florent Malouda or Nasri or any other player get hurt

Tuesday against Croatia. Like the English FA, the French federation

used to have insurance. But it stopped paying the premiums a few

years ago, says the federation’s treasurer, Bernard Desumer.

Because clubs are supposed to insure their players, even when they

away with the national team, ”I said to myself we are wasting

money,” says Desumer.

Wales is another example of a federation that doesn’t pay – so

Arsenal should hope that Ramsey, its young midfielder, isn’t

injured playing for the Welsh under-21 team against Andorra. The

Wales FA president, Philip Pritchard, says his organization isn’t

wealthy enough to pay compensation to clubs and couldn’t afford

insurance if the rules were changed.

”It would kill a small association like us,” he said in an

interview. ”The lifeblood of the small countries would be

eliminated.”

Both FIFA and football’s governing body in Europe, UEFA, point

out that clubs do get compensation for releasing their players for

the World Cup and European Championships. In all, those two bodies

say they will be sharing a total of $208 million (?147 million)

with clubs from the World Cups of 2010 and 2014 and the Euros of

2008 and 2012. Part of that money is meant to help cover clubs’

insurance payments.

One possible alternative, at least for World Cups, might be to

put some of the shared-out FIFA payment from 2014 into a collective

insurance fund, says FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke. His UEFA

counterpart, Gianni Infantino, says a collective insurance system

is feasible but is ”probably quite expensive.”

”It’s clear that we need to look at all this closely,” he

says. ”It’s clear that we need to discuss it.”

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The

Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org