| MADRID, June 27
MADRID, June 27 The Spanish government has told the nation's soccer clubs to slash one billion euros ($1.30 billion) from combined debt of around four billion by 2016 as part of a sweeping effort to reverse years of profligacy and mismanagement.
The austerity plan for the 42 first and second division teams includes cutting 100 million euros from clubs' wage bills next season and some might be told to sell players if they were not deemed to be getting their accounts in order, Secretary of State for Sport Miguel Cardenal told reporters on Thursday.
The rules were first set out in January this year after an agreement between Cardenal's office (CSD) and the professional league (LFP) but this is the first time the government has given clubs a specific target for debt reduction.
Spain is keen to give the impression that it is working hard to clean up soccer finances as part of a wider bid to improve the nation's image and boost Madrid's chances of winning the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
The government this month pushed through a new anti-doping law that it hopes will dispel the impression Spain is a haven for drug cheats.
"Soccer is very important for the international image of our country," Cardenal said, while admitting the debt reduction target was "ambitious".
"(As world and European champions) we are the reference point and envy of the world but domestic soccer has not been exemplary in the way it has been run," he added.
"It was in an absurd situation and it is positive that those involved know that they have a problem that must be fixed."
The government also published a report on Thursday detailing the deterioration of clubs' accounts over the past decade.
The combined debt of the 20 clubs in La Liga has quadrupled since the 1999/2000 season, while in the 22-team second division it has surged to more than 500 million euros from 270 million, the report showed.
Clubs stayed afloat by selling players and in recent times have increasingly been offloading prize assets to wealthy rivals in other European leagues.
"We have turned into an exporting nation," Cardenal said. "It's an historic change and Spanish soccer must recognise it has taken place."
He accepted the trend was likely to continue, with Real Madrid and Barcelona, the world's richest clubs by income, the only teams in Spain able to afford the best players.
"There has been a profound cultural change in the last 18 months," Cardenal said.
"We have to project the conviction that soccer is as serious a business sector as any other.
"Any doubts about legal security must be removed to help attract foreign investment and generate employment." ($1 = 0.7691 euros) (Editing by Tom Bartlett)