Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 8

Memorandum submitted by the Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA)

  Thank you for allowing RUPA to submit its views to the Committee.

  The Rugby Union Players' Association was established within a few months of the game turning professional and represents players in England and Wales. RUPA is part of the sports division of the GMB.

  The officers of the organisation are Bob Norster, Chairman, Peter Winterbottom, Deputy Chairman, Richard Moon, Secretary, and Bill Chard, Assistant Secretary, who work in close liaison with the players.

  This written submission is brief but can be expanded upon if required with an oral presentation.

(A)  THE FINANCIAL STATE OF RUGBY UNION

  1.  From the introduction of professionalism the domestic game has lurched from one crisis to another.

  2.  The home Unions (Governing Bodies) have been in a constant battle with the Professional Clubs over control of (a) the players (b) the organisation (c) the revenue.

  3.  The situation has worsened of late. Initially sponsors were found for individual clubs who were prepared to inject large sums of money hoping for success both on the field and expecting a financial return. This was never a realistic expectation given the size of crowds even for popular clubs like Leicester and Bath.

  4.  The bubble has burst, many sponsors have now withdrawn their backing and clubs are either bankrupt or on the verge of bankruptcy.

  5.  Why? Too much, too soon. At the advent of professionalism clubs scrambled for their "best" players shooting player salaries to unsustainable levels. Clubs agreed contracts for one, two, three years without detailed knowledge of their first year's income. In some cases unrealistic business plans were put in place and in other situations hearts ruled heads totally. The club's administrators and officials simply did not have enough expertise to deal with and administer wage payrolls of between £1 million and £2 million pounds per year.

  6.  The unions and the clubs failed to put in place from the outset of professionalism necessary measures to stop clubs going bust one day and re-emerging under a slightly different name the next. Clubs were allowed to merge regardless of the physical distance and the difference in League.

  The general lack of firm policy making from the outset of professionalism in this area allowed the whole game to fall into disrepute.

  7.  Many clubs are now facing financial hardship. Blackheath, England's oldest club has called in the receivers and then re-emerged under a different name leaving creditors, including players, thousands of pounds out of pocket. Richmond, Orrell, Bristol, Wakefield, London Scottish and many other clubs have at times not been able to pay their players contractual dues.

  8.  Many players had good full time occupations outside of sport but were pushed by their clubs into becoming full time professionals. They were told that they needed to train every day or they would not be included in the team. Now many of those players are owed money by their clubs and have seen their initial annual earnings reduced. More worryingly young players were enticed into professional rugby at the expense of pursing a trade or career or further education.

  9.  The unions and their professional clubs need to consult with the Players' Association and quickly agree a framework of bylaws governing the conduct of clubs facing and experiencing financial difficulty.

(B)  THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TWO CODES

  1.  The relationship between the two codes has improved dramatically since the introduction of professionalism.

  2.  There is now a free flow of players between the codes which is obviously subject to contractual agreements.

(C)  INVESTMENT AND PUBLIC FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR THE MODERNISATION OF STADIUMS FOR PROFESSIONAL RUGBY

  1.  Although this is not an area that RUPA would normally be involved in we welcome investment from any area including public support.

  2.  Modern, comfortable stadiums will encourage people to regularly attend matches. Many stadiums are in need of investment.

  3.  With public funding, stadiums could possibly be used in partnership with the clubs as a benefit for the whole community hosting a variety of events.

  4.  Stadiums are often underused facilities.

(D)  THE ROLE OF PROFESSIONAL CLUBS, GOVERNING BODIES AND PLAYERS' ASSOCIATIONS IN PROMOTING PARTICIPATION IN RUGBY AT AMATEUR LEVEL AND IN SCHOOLS

  1.  Each of the bodies referred to above have an active part to play in contributing to amateur or junior development and participation.

  2.  For Players' Associations to play their full part in this promotion and development they need regular funding, best provided by legislation channelling monies from television sponsorship directly to the player organisation.

  3.  RUPA aspires to provide the support for players in the same way as the Professional Football Association does for footballers. Unfortunately RUPA has no such funding.

Other Issues of Importance to Players

  1.  The poor financial state of professional clubs may well cause up and coming talented players to "think twice" before signing up to an extremely uncertain future as a professional rugby player.

  2.  Education needs to be provided to players running parallel with their playing careers.

  Many young players will sign professional contracts at age 17-18 without any qualifications, earn moderately for 10 or 12 years and leave the game with virtually nothing.

  There is an increasing trend for clubs to offer young players an agreement whereby clubs pay college tuition fees in return for loyalty to the club. RUPA is concerned that if the club goes bankrupt the player or parent will be left footing the bill.

  3.  Only a small number of players at the top end of the game (mostly internationals) will earn regular high salaries. Only Players' Associations can adequately run the education programmes suitable to players needs.

  4.  Again television revenue must be channelled through Players' Associations for this purpose. RUPA feels that rugby has suffered because of the limited amount of terrestrial TV coverage for club and international rugby.

  5.  Adequate pension cover and injury cover can again only be achieved through the Players' Association.

  6.  RUPA is concerned by the influx of "foreign" players at the expense of young English players. The balance is top heavy with foreign players with limited sanctions applying for any clubs who breach the Department of Employment and Home Office requirements.

  7.  RUPA is concerned about the influx of "agents" into the sport which has pushed up salary levels artificially and diverted funds out of the game.

The Future

  The standard and fitness of Professional Rugby Union Players is at an all time high.

  The game as a spectacle has improved considerably. International matches continue to be sell outs.

  Unfortunately the professionalism on the field has not been matched by the same level of professionalism off the field.

  Squabbling between the unions and the clubs, a lack of sound financial planning by clubs, a refusal to modernise by the unions coupled with the early mistakes lead us to where we are.

  For the game to progress the player's voice should be heard at all levels. Very few senior players go into the administration of the game at governing body level because there is no financial incentive to do so. RFU Committee Members are unpaid. This issue needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

  Players wish the game to succeed at both club and international level. We believe that many of the problems that have besieged Rugby Union since the advent of professionalism could have been solved more clearly and more quickly by entering into serious dialogue with the Players' Association.

  The game has an excellent future in the professional world if lasting peace can be achieved, some financial plans put in place and the necessary bylaws established giving order where mayhem exists at present.

June 1999


 
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Prepared 14 December 1999