08/17/2011 10:10 EDT | Updated 10/17/2011 05:12 EDT

Italian minister says spoiled soccer players should pay new tax twice

ROME - A debate between soccer players and clubs over who should pay a new austerity tax caught fire Wednesday, with an Italian Cabinet minister lamenting the players are spoiled and should have the tax doubled.

A top official with the players association quickly retorted, calling the idea "nonsense."

The debate centres on a "solidarity tax" for high earners, which Gazzetta dello Sport estimated will cost Serie A teams about 50 million euros (C$72 million). The tax was imposed by the government as part of a strict austerity package.

Clubs say players should pay it. Players have already threatened a strike over a contract-renewal dispute to delay the Aug. 27-28 start of the Serie A season.

Minister Roberto Calderoli said the players were "acting like spoiled children."

"I don't know if the solidarity tax is fair or not, but if anybody should pay it, the players should — they represent a caste of spoiled people," Calderoli said. "If they continue to threaten strikes and retaliation, I will propose that, just like the politicians, the players have their tax doubled."

Top players are handsomely paid in the Serie A, as they as in other major European leagues. AC Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the highest-paid player in Italy at a reported 9 million euros ($13 million) per season.

The "solidarity tax" applies to those who make more than 90,000 euros ($128,250).

Calderoli is known for his provocative stances, and not just with the soccer players. Before the 2010 World Cup, he challenged the Italian team to make a gesture of goodwill during the financial crisis and donate some of their prize money. He has ventured into more dangerous territory with anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic stunts.

The deputy president of the players' association, Leo Grosso, said players must be subjected to the same rules as any other employees. He insisted that the issue must be resolved on a case-by-case basis, depending on what each contract states.