France's professional football clubs have decided they will not play any football on the last weekend of November in protest at President Hollande's new 75 percent tax for high earners.
But more than four out of five French people think French footballers should shut up and pay. And the French – for good measure - have a "poor opinion" of their national team.
French clubs voted unanimously to refuse to play any matches from November 29. to December 2. Monaco also voted to strike out of solidarity with the other French teams in the French league although they are not subject to French tax.
The stadiums will be open. The public can come and meet the players if they so should wish. But they will not have the privilege of seeing them kicking a ball.
The clubs said it was "unfair" that they should be affected by the new tax. They are already losing 60 million euros a year and this would add 44 million euros to their deficit.
"Football is in danger," said Lille president Michel Seydoux. They – the clubs - will have to pay, they say, rather than the players.
France's Constitutional Council decided that Francois Hollande's electoral promise to introduce a new 75 percent level of income tax for those earning more than a million euros a year would contravene the constitution.
Now the new tax will be calculated in the same way but paid by the employers. In any case, argue the football clubs, they will be obliged to make up the difference. If they fail to stump up the stupendous wages top football players command, they will all go to play abroad.
Most of France's top players (Bayern Munich's Frank Ribery for example) already play in Germany, England and Spain, and the 114 footballers playing in the French football league earn over 1 million euros a year.
The publication of an opinion poll after the French clubs' announcement shows that they have a public relations problem on their hands. Eighty five percent of respondents said the football clubs should pay the tax. For once, Francois Hollande has found himself in tune with public opinion.
Karim Zeribi, a former professional footballer and a French member of the European Parliament, said the clubs should "contribute to the national effort" and "stop behaving like spoilt children."
National team strike
The French national team's "player's strike" during the South African World Cup in 2010 after a player was dropped from the side after insulting the manager went down very badly with the French public. This may be why the football clubs are refusing to call their protest action a strike but a "white day," a "blockage" or an "act of communication."
The image of French football has never recovered since the South African embarrassment. A recent opinion poll showed 83 percent of the French dislike their national team. Not that this has chastised the players into better behavior.
A few days ago Manchester United player Patrice Evra described football consultants as "tramps" and "parasites" on France's most popular TV channel. But there is also a suspicion in France that disliking successful footballers is part of a wider phenomenon.
One of Francois Hollande's main political opponents, ex-Prime Minister Francois Fillon, said the new 75 percent tax was "an economic absurdity. In sport, as elsewhere, a witch hunt against talent can only make France poorer."
Rich French people have long been leaving their country in order to avoid paying high taxes. France's most famous singing star Johnny Hallyday left the country a few years ago to take up residence in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad.
Brussels is full of rich French nationals. In French, S.D.F. ("Sans Domicile Fixe" – No Fixed Abode) is also the phrase for tramp or hobo. The Belgians call their new, well-to-do French neighbors the S.D.F. too but for "Sans Difficulté Financière," or Without Financial Difficulties.
The most recent high-profile tax exile case was that of actor Gerard Depardieu who first purchased a property in a rather grim-looking Belgian town near the French border.
There followed a heated, emotional and very public row. French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called the French star 'minable' (pathetic) and Depardieu handed in his passport. He has since received a Russian one from Vladimir Putin.
Fittingly for someone who describes Russia as "a great democracy," the most successful French actor of his generation now lives in Democracy Road in a town called Saransk in a province called Mordovia which is, geographers say, 650 kilometers east of Moscow.
Photographs occasionally appear in the French press of Depardieu wearing improbable Russian folk costume with a complexion and 'joie-de-vivre' reminiscent of the late Russian leader Boris Yeltsin.
The French, though, seem impervious to their loss. That high taxes are pushing talent – and money – abroad is an argument the French – at least the majority – do not want to hear.
Something from which Francois Hollande can take comfort. Along with the fact that in France's footballers, the French public have found people even less popular than the President himself.
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