Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Premier League players have launched an initiative called #PlayersTogether, which will funnel part of their salaries to the National Health Service to support the U.K.'s front-line workers during the coronavirus crisis.

Why it matters: This decision came at the conclusion of a protracted argument between players, clubs and even government officials over who should bear the brunt of lost revenue in the midst of the pandemic.

The state of play: Thanks to the singular role football plays in the U.K.'s national psyche, this debate took center stage for weeks. The core question: Should players take pay cuts to help their clubs stanch losses? Or should they continue to be paid in full, enabling them to donate those funds directly to those in need?

  • The league wanted to cut up to 25% of players' salaries, while deferring an additional 15% until the crisis abates.
  • The players wanted no cuts, just deferrals, arguing that reducing salaries now would mean less cash on hand to be donated, as well as a significant reduction in taxes paid, which would help workers who need it most.
  • Government officials like U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock wanted Premier League stars to "take a pay cut and play their part."
  • The normally adoring public wanted clubs and players alike to put aside their differences for the sake of front-line workers.

Between the lines: There's even one more affected party: the non-playing club staffers, whose involvement plays a key role.

  • Newcastle and Tottenham both decided to furlough most of their non-playing employees, putting the onus on the government to support them for the time being.
  • Compare that to what Mavericks owner Mark Cuban did, or how various other athletes and ownership groups paid employees out of pocket to allow government funds to go to those who truly need it.

The big picture: The EPL is one of the most profitable leagues in the world, making over $5 billion in annual revenue, but its players hardly make up the entire über-wealthy population of the nation. In fact, there were nearly 2.5 million millionaires in the U.K. in 2019, per Credit Suisse's World Wealth report.

  • As the public ire grew over how athletes would use their wealth to support those in need, it's worth thinking about why the countless other rich individuals were saved from that vitriol.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Felix Salmon, who writes our weekly finance newsletter, Axios Edge, and spent the first 25 years of his life living in England:

"The fact is, the NHS has an annual budget of $167 billion, so while the players' donation is inarguably commendable, it also has a whiff of being merely performative. A gesture that tells the public they care, and backs the clubs into an unenviable corner, where cutting salary suddenly means more than it did a couple weeks ago."But honestly, in a world where the best that most of us can do is stay at home and play video games, even something performative is, well, something."

Go deeper: "Europe's last dictator" won't let sports stop during coronavirus

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that the U.K.'s National Health Service's annual budget is $167 billion (not million).

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