A doddle through the detail of the budget reveals much. Tucked away in the full document, beyond all the nice graphs, bar charts and blethers, sits the blow by blow account of each and every measure.
Chapter 2 on budget policy decisions is illuminating. Take points 2.58 and 2.59. These little nuggets make plain that any football players and officials earning money when the Champions League Final comes to be played at Wembley next year will be able to do so tax-free. They won’t have to pay any UK tax on such earnings.
Likewise, following discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments, any athlete earning money as a result of a performance at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, won’t be taxed on it. As was pointed out to me, these games are supposedly amateur so where does the earning potential come from?
Nonetheless, I don’t suppose many of us will bemoan an athlete from the developing world being gifted a car or a house by their government/sheikh/dictator to congratulate them on winning gold or breaking a world record. We might feel a bit uncomfortable with it but every country needs its heroes and heroines and grand gestures. We will all delight in such worldclass performances, not least because they took place in oor ain dear green place. We’ll all be proud.
However, the exemption appears only to apply to non-resident athletes, so presumably Sir Chris Hoy and others, if they make any dosh from doing well at the Commonwealth Games – which I’m not at all sure would be the case – will have to pay tax. It’s unequal treatment which seems a mite unfair.
Still, we aren’t talking huge sums here and no doubt like many others, our top-earning athletes from these shores will have all manner of tax minimisation measures in place.
But the idea of letting some of the highest paid athletes, professional footballers, off the tax hook does stick in my craw. Admittedly, they are here for one night only. Such exemptions are bound to be part of the deal when UEFA chooses its finals venues and will be commonplace around Europe. But you only have to look at the state of our, and other countries’, finances to realise that even a small bonus from a big football game would help. Even just to send the correct message.
We already know from the Rangers’ debacle that some highly-paid footballers who ply their trade in Scotland are avoiding their fair share of tax. One supposes that Rangers learned and copied the scheme from other clubs around Europe: I’d be very surprised if they worked this one out all by themselves. So, it means that in most countries, the highest earners in football are paying very little tax in the country they currently call home. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to guesstimate the level of earnings and potential level of tax being avoided. Answer – it’s a lot.
Why should footballers get away with paying very little tax when the rest of us have to? And indeed, when most other visiting sports stars have to?
Presumably, the exemption for the Olympics is already in place. Hopefully, Six Nations rugby players, international swimmers, cyclists, track athletes, F1 drivers, tennis players – and all the others who come every year to play in tournaments and championships, events and meetings – all pay tax on earnings from their endeavours. So why the differential treatment for some of the richest of all in football?
Interestingly, there was no such exemption granted for the Ryder Cup in 2014 in Scotland. Is that because the exemption has already been granted, will be sought next year or won’t be afforded? Someone on twitter suggested that overseas golfers are not given a bye on tax and that this is an ongoing issue. It makes it hard, for example, to attract the big name players to the Scottish Open and other tournaments. That, one presumes, is only one reason but it will be an important one.
I appreciate that this piece might seem like a bit of a treatise on the need for all sport stars to be made exempt from tax on all earnings on these shores. It’s not. But currently, the system does appear to be unfair, with exemption given to some and not to others. Though maybe I’m just being naive; maybe it is all immaterial, and they all have offshore trusts and companies and the like and get away with paying very little tax anywhere.
But it does seem like one rule for the very richest, and another for the rest of us. And it seems to be an area ripe for investigation to answer mine and no doubt many other questions.
Ultimately though, if we want to level the playing field on tax and sports earnings, they should all just have to pay the going rate on everything they earn while in the UK. The same as us mere mortals do: that to me would seem like the fairest of fair play notions.