Colombian Players Urged to Strike by Moron Despite Death Threats

BOGOTA Colombia (AP) - Former Colombian soccer star Jaime Moron is struggling to make ends meet. He's emaciated diabetic and gets no retirement or health benefits from the clubs he played for.

He says today's players should learn from his experience and finally go on strike - despite alleged threats from team owners.

"They should visit me to see their future Moron said.

Moron a star in the 1970s and 80s watched history repeat itself this month as players voted to strike then backed out at the last minute. Players in his day also talked of a strike but never walked the walk.

This month's planned strike would have been the first ever for players in Colombia who earn a pittance compared to the likes of Ronaldo and David Beckham. And Moron said he understands the players' reluctance to commit to a strike.

"Their mind is on the end of the season winning and all that and they also are feeling heat from the owners to shut up and play said the 51-year-old whose diabetes has caused him to lose 20 kilograms (44 pounds).

More than 400 of Colombia's 500 first-division players voted in favor of the strike according to the Association of Professional Colombian Soccer Players or Acolfutpro which said health and retirement benefits rather than salaries are the key issues in the labor dispute.

First division players' salaries in Colombia begin at about US$2500 (2000 Euros) a year while top players can earn more than US$100000 (83300 Euros).

Most players' formal contracts represent about 10 percent of their earnings and it is this that health and pension payments are based on so benefits are minimal. The rest of their salaries Acolfutpro director Carlos Gonzalez said are paid out as a "bonus" in a separate contract which allows owners to avoid paying much into health and pension systems.

Gonzalez said the planned strike aims for players' entire salaries to be paid in one contract. He also wants the association to be involved in contract negotiations. Currently the players deal directly and solely with the owners.

The strike was to begin Oct. 15 but at the last minute players from all but one of the 18 teams in the Colombian league changed their minds. Players from the America club in Colombia's third-biggest city of Cali did strike but have since returned to work.

The players association accused team owners of telling players they would be blacklisted if they joined the strike. The group has lodged a complaint with the International Labor Organization said Gonzalez who played in the Colombian league in the 1990s.

The soccer league known as Dimayor has denied owners have made any threats to players.

Gonzalez said he has been threatened with having his head chopped off for helping to organize the players' association but refused to give details about the purported threats or where they came from.

The government's Social Welfare Ministry has met with both sides in the dispute and is investigating allegations of labor malpractice said ministry official Pedro Santiago Posada. He said the findings will be released in the coming weeks.