He makes just over £25 million a year, £500,000 every week and more than a pound a minute. He’s undisputedly the best footballer of the era and some argue the best ever; why then, is Lionel Messi charged with tax evasion?
Ahead of his upcoming court date, I thought I’d shed some light on the tax issues professional athletes face and attempt to dispel the criticism they attract. In the case of such a public figure, despite his seemingly humble, immaculate past, the first appearance of any wrongdoing is sure to incite many to believe he is guilty. My question to you is, do you really expect Messi to be in charge of his financial accounts and know the ins and outs of tax code? Furthermore, would he knowingly risk his highly profitable public image over what, in the grand scheme of things, is a negligible amount relative to his worth?
To me, Messi’s defence is more than valid, prompting me to delve deeper into other such instances where tax has had an impact in the world of sport. The UK is one of the only countries that taxes endorsement income for non-resident athletes, the reason several stars avoid competing here if possible – Usain Bolt has not competed on British soil since 2009, bar the Olympics, when the tax was suspended.
The situation is not much better across the pond, as US tax seems unrivalled in terms of complexity when it comes to professional sportsmen. In the many professional leagues in the States, athletes cross state borders on almost a daily basis to compete, incurring taxes whenever they do so. Moreover, each state taxes each sport differently, leading to endless headaches when filing returns.
With all these hindrances and jurisdictions, I for one, am willing to forgive an occasional tax hiccup and give them the benefit of the doubt. How would you respond if you faced similar tax issues and scrutiny?