Strikers on strike
When sportsmen down tools
Thursday 09 October 2003
The 1994 season in the United States was interrupted and eventually wiped out by a strike, the eighth in the sport's history. The action was called because the players' union argued they were being asked to solve the owners' financial problems through salary capping. Clubs hired "scabs" from the minor leagues but the season, including the play-offs and the hugely lucrative World Series, was cancelled. Crowds dropped by 20 per cent in the summer of 1995.
Alec Stewart was England's captain and shop steward when the players threatened to boycott the 1999 World Cup over pay. A settlement was reached a week before the tournament. Stewart's successor, Nasser Hussain, was the prime mover when the team refused to go to Zimbabwe for this year's World Cup. The initial concern was over human rights. When no lead came from the government or the England and Wales Cricket Board, the players declined on security grounds.
Wimbledon was a seriously diminished showcase in 1973. Some 81 players, including the top names of the day, stayed away in protest against the suspension of Nikki Pilic by the Yugoslavian Tennis Federation for failing to play in the Davis Cup. Jan Kodes, a little-known Czech, beat the Georgian Alex Metreveli in the men's final. This year, the Association of Tennis Professionals threatened to boycott the US Open over prize money and pension rights.
Led by the Frenchman, Richard Virenque, competitors on the Tour de France went on strike during the 1998 race. They laid down their bikes and staged a sit-in on the road, some to denounce drug-squad raids on their hotel rooms, others to protest against doping or condemn the Tour organisers. The riders' action followed tests on two teams that had confirmed the widespread use of amphetamines, growth hormones, anabolic steroids and cannabis.
In 1961, the Jimmy Hill-led Professional Footballers' Association voted to strike in support of abolishing the maximum wage and the right to a cut of transfer fees. Three days before the proposed inaction, the League acceded to most of their demands. The PFA again came close to industrial action in 2001 over TV revenue distribution. In 1996, Serie A stars in Italy went on strike for one match-day in support of back-pay and pension claims by their lower-division colleagues.
In 1988, after lowly Runcorn Highfield had been drawn against Wigan in the John Player Trophy, the players argued for higher "losing pay" when the tie was switched to their opponents' ground in pursuit of bigger gate receipts. When the directors only offered an increase in "winning money", they withdrew their labour. The coach Bill Ashurst, 39, came out of retirement and was sent off. The strikers called them "blacklegs" from the terraces as Runcorn lost 92-2.
Three years ago next month, an England squad fresh from a victory over Australia refused to play Argentina at Twickenham. The players had been offered a deal which their leaders, Lawrence Dallaglio, Martin Johnson and Matt Dawson, argued was unfairly weighted towards bonuses rather than basic pay. Following a three-day stand-off, in which the coach, Clive Woodward, warned he would send out an alternative side, a compromise was hammered out.
Angered by low pay, long hours and lack of recognition for their union, the TGWU, over half of Newmarket's 680 stable lads went on strike in 1975. The dispute led them into violent conflict with the jockeys Willie Carson and Lester Piggott and ended with 71 lads sacked and a new, owner-approved union. The riders became militant themselves last month, Frankie Dettori and Kieren Fallon joining a protest against a ban on their using mobile phones to force an abandonment at Sandown.
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