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Belgian teams falling back on state assistance for staff pay

Belgian ProTour outfits using government unemployment benefits to pay staff, riders still being paid by teams.

Belgian teams Circus-Wanty Gobert and Bingoal-Wallonie Brussels are applying for state benefits to cover staff salaries as the race calendar dries up.

The two ProTour teams are leveraging Belgian state initiatives to claim unemployment benefits for staff who are currently unemployed. With teams relying on appearance fees and prize money from races as part of their economic model, the cancelation of a slew of events through spring due to the coronavirus crisis has hit teams’ coffers hard, and effectively left staff unemployed.

Het Nieuwsblad reported Tuesday that Circus-Wanty Gobert is claiming the aid for 11 of its staffers that are on the books on a full-time basis. Bingoal-Wallonie Brussels has also jumped on the support system, with team manager Christophe Brandt telling Het Laatste Nieuws that “unfortunately, this cannot be avoided in this situation. You should compare it to a company that suddenly doesn’t sell anything (anymore) and has no more income.”

While teams’ full-time staff are able to benefit from the government assistance packages, the many freelance mechanics and soigneurs that work on a race-by-race basis are not so fortunate, with the scheme not extended to the self-employed.

At present, it’s still business as usual for riders, who are still being paid by teams rather than the unemployment system. “They are still training and preparing for the matches,” a spokesman from Circus-Wanty Gobert said. “If this situation lasts five months, then that may be different. But that is not yet the case.”

Fellow Belgian team Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise is another outfit considering making use of the support.

“For the time being, all of our staff are still on the payroll, but I will not hide that we are handling the case internally,” said team manager Christophe Sercu. “I will first consult with our main sponsors and I will not put myself under pressure to do this quickly to decide quickly, but the system of economic unemployment is certainly something to consider.”

The news comes hot on the heels of a stark warning from Deceuninck-Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere that team budgets would suffer greatly if the Tour de France were to be canceled. The race, which can form the centerpiece of many sponsorship contracts, is still currently due to go ahead, but that is far from set in stone with the coronavirus crisis still deep-set in Europe.

At present, Lefevere’s Quick-Step team, Lotto-Soudal, and Mathieu van der Poel’s Alpecin-Fenix team have not reached out for the Belgian state’s unemployment assistance.