‘They are Sports Performance Artists’. When Professional Football Players’ Pay Becomes a Tax Issue (1970s-1980s)

Struggles to Define the Framework for Practising Sports
By Manuel Schotté

In 1983, all the representatives of French professional football gave their support to players who were demanding the same tax deductions as artists, claiming that they, too, were performers. An analysis of this tax claim is very instructive for anyone interested in the question of athletes’ status. It highlights the wide range of participants involved in defining the legal framework that organises athletes’ work. Far from involving only sports federations, the question of players’ status involves several government departments, including the Ministries of Youth and Sports, of the Budget, and of Social Affairs. The debate highlights the boundaries between the various professionals of bodily excellence. Whereas stage artists and football players both perform for an audience, the footballers are denied the tax advantages given to artists. This reflects the importance of different perceptive frameworks, notably emphasising the state’s role in creating differences between social groups. The public authorities thus formalise an arbitrary cultural view that selectively values certain forms of culture and certain cultural producers.

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