England’s top clubs are paying 20 overseas players more than £350,000 a season which has triggered the legal action being taken against World Rugby which threatens to block release for World Cup training camps in the build up to next year’s tournament in Japan.
Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby, has revealed to RugbyPass the financial facts behind their action which they insist is not aimed at hurting Tier 2 and 3 nations in World Cup year but is designed to force World Rugby to adequately cover all players when they are released by their clubs for international commitments.
England are not affected as player release is governed by the £220m Professional Game Agreement signed by PRL and the RFU.
World Rugby has been notified that papers will be lodged with the courts in England in three weeks with the action aimed at removing the current limit on insurance cover. Winstanley confirmed an agreement which lasted until the middle of this year, signed in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup, had no ceiling on insurance cover but World Rugby want to revert to their original position despite a significant rise in wages for the top players during the period.
Unlimited cover is in place in football, on the last four British and Irish Lions tours and for those Premiership players chosen for the Barbarians. Premiership Rugby wants that replicated for all nations with World Rugby picking up the bill, not the individual countries.
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Winstanley said: “A proposal was put forward to the regulations committee of World Ruby which was rejected but they offered to increase cover to from £225,000 to £350,000. The problem we have got is that there are 60 non-English players in the Premiership earning more than £250,000 and 20 players currently earning more than £350,000.
“We have prepared the letters to take World Rugby to court because we believe the regulation is unfair and inequitable. We wrote to them three das ago saying we will lodge papers with the court in three weeks. Because of Christmas we have made it three weeks and the bottom line is that in our view Regulation 9 and 23 are illegal in their current form because it forces us to release players without them being covered fully by insurance.
“World Rugby are trying make this about affordability for Tier 2 and 3 nations and that is not the issue. This is about World Rugby dealing with it on behalf of all unions and there is no reason why they cannot put a policy in place to centrally run this for all of the Unions and pick up the bill. With the current deal ending in June this year we have now been forced to escalate it. What isn’t understood is that what we have been seeking has been in place for the last three years and there was no limit. That has expired and now we are back into the original position and the ball is very much in World Rugby’s hands.
“It was put to me that we could let those players not earning more than the old limit be released but if you do that then it immediately identifies what individual players are earning and that is not right. It’s a private matter.
“World Rugby signed a side letter prior to the 2015 World Cup that took us up to June 30, 2018 that removed all limits. If you got injured for more than 12 months it was covered. I sat down with World Rugby at the start of 2018 and said this was an unacceptable situation and we need to incorporate this in regulations. We wrote to them in April with a letter which put on record that unless the position changed we were forced to take legal action.”
England’s top clubs are refusing to back down over the issue and want to distance themselves from suggestions they are harming the chances of smaller nations who cannot afford massive insurance bills in a World Cup year when they need to hold more training camps.
He added: “The challenge we have now is that we risk the club having the bear the liability of an injury that happens on test and training camp duty after we have been forced to release them and that is inequitable. It’s like if you had a new sports car and I used it and scraped all the sides of it and handed it back saying I can only afford to fix bits of the car but I want the vehicle again next week. The logic is just not fair and we need to change it.
“World Rugby says that we are damaging Tier 2 and Tier 3 Unions. This is not a T2 or T3 problem it is a World Rugby problem. A fraction of what is generated by international matches revenues will cover the costs of cover for a year but they are choosing not to do that. We want World Rugby to show some leadership and put insurance cover in place.
“It would be a nonsense for us to release players for World Cup camps knowing we would bear the cost if they got injured. Players will be released 35 days prior to the World Cup under Regulation 9 and we will do that in August. If Wales or Scotland asked to arrange something separately we would have a conversation but that is not the issue because its’s not right that if you can afford it you can do it. The answer has to be “No” because we want World Rugby to cover all nations.”
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