James Haskell fears that players in the Gallagher Premiership face another round of pay cuts as the game in England grapples with the effects of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Some clubs could fold if the Government fail to bail out the league having imposed new restrictions outlawing crowds for up to six months, placing finances under intolerable strain.
Players have already been forced to take a 25 per cent reduction in salary and Haskell, the retired England flanker who was speaking ahead of Thursday’s publication of his autobiography What A Flanker, hopes that any negotiations are handled more sensitively than before.
“Further pay cuts are probably inevitable because it’s unsustainable at the moment. That’s hard to deal with, but it’s better to have half of something than all of nothing,” he said. “Taking 25 per cent pay cuts was the right thing to do, what upset me was how it was handled.
“Players were sat in a room and given new contracts to sign and told they had to take it without any kind of dialogue. It’s very clear the owners have the power because of the wild west way the contracts were sorted out. A lot of clubs have been precariously balanced for a long time and this will bring a premature end to some of them.”
With the existing structure of professional rugby under threat, Haskell sees an opportunity for an overhaul based on measures such as reducing the Premiership to 10 teams, introducing an academy draft system, shortening the season and centrally contracting players.
"Haskell was a big one for me. In his last couple of years the amount of tape that he had to put on to put a performance together"@TeimanaH on Saints, England, Exeter, his new clothing line & the 'life-changing damage' of pro rugby/with @heagneyl ???https://t.co/9CrKMuPsm2
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 20, 2020
The former Wasps and Northampton back row has little faith in power brokers implementing change, however, after noting the ongoing inertia amid the crisis engulfing the sport. An outstanding career that spanned 77 England caps and featured one Lions tour was ended 15 months ago, but Haskell is still confronted by the repercussions of performing in such a brutal arena for 17 years.
“In the last month alone I probably spent £3,000 on injections, MRI scans. An injection into the ankle is £755, and MRI is £800. Physio, osteo. It just starts to add up,” he said. “It’s never-ending and I’ve got to earn some money so that I can pay people to keep fixing me.
“As soon as your contract expires, you have to pay for everything. People say get medical insurance but that excludes anything you have a problem with, so there’s no part of my body left to put through insurance. It’s a mad situation and the only answer is to put a fund together that would cover some costs of rebuilding your body when you finish your career. It would make a massive difference.”
Despite the endless rehabilitation, Haskell says he would not change any aspect of his career, although he would have preferred to have seen a different emphasis in training. “A lot of clubs over-train and don’t prioritise rest. We do far too much contact training when games are already tough enough,” he said.
“Taking contact out of training would make a huge difference, saving some careers and saving some damage. Some lads’ bodies are falling apart and I don’t think we’ve heard the end of concussion.”
Haskell is still hopeful that he will be able to make his mixed martial arts debut after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of his first fight on May 12 having spent months training.
“It’s very odd for me personally because I don’t ever feel like I was a rugby player"
– It's just 15 months since James Haskell retired from playing but he has been so busy outside the game his old identity doesn't define him ???https://t.co/YVVKw2fAxu
— liam heagney (@heagneyl) August 17, 2020
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