Saracens will not be saved from relegation and players are not threatening to strike as English rugby struggles to cope with the financial ramifications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
RugbyPass has been told there is no threat of a player strike in the wake of the 25 per cent wage cuts imposed by some Premiership clubs yesterday with all but Exeter expected to follow suit.
It has been suggested the players would not agree to training camps once the immediate threat of the virus has ended until their full contracts are honoured. The unprecedented pressure on finances and the negative publicity that kind of stand would deliver has seen top officials move swiftly to deny there is a strike threat or that Saracens will be saved from relegation by the disrupted season.
Damian Hopley, the chief executive of the Rugby Players Associaton which represents professional players in England, told RugbyPass: “Any talk of strike action is misplaced. We are only 24 hours into this process and we want to establish a mature best practice with the Premiership clubs, a number of whom are in a better position than others, like Exeter who aren’t cutting wages.
“Suggestions of players taking any action is grossly exaggerated and my personal view is how would they go on strike when they are not playing matches? A lot of players are distressed about what has come out and we all recognise we are living in unprecedented times and the last thing anyone wants to see is half the league go out of business. We are in constant dialogue with the Premiership about the news from the Government about support for businesses and players would not want to put their clubs or colleagues in jeopardy.
“Once we get the information we need, the players then face a straight forward chocie – do they accept the pay cuts or not. In the conversations we are having with the players they want to know if is this a deduction or deferment?
“It is all about getting the most accurate information out to our membership and we recognise it is a time of crisis and we need to act collectively to come out the other end stronger. From an RPA perspective there is legal situation in terms of breach of contract but the last thing we all want is to throw money at lawyers when we need to get a clear direction of travel. There hasn’t been a uniform approach from the Premiership clubs and we are collecting information about the short and mid-term situation for players in terms of pay cuts.
“The meetings started on Thursday and were completed yesterday and this is about how the relationship between players, clubs and Unions redefined and are their better ways we can work. It is an horrific time and what is lost is that many clubs have backers who have stuck by them through thick and thin but away from rugby they are suffering horrendously at the moment. We understand the world is in freefall and all we are asking for is more information.“
With the Rugby Football Union ending all rugby below the Premiership, Championship leaders Newcastle have to wait until mid-April to find out if they are promoted while there are significant concerns over the ability of clubs such as Wasps – who are carrying debts of nearly £40m – to stay in business. Wasps are adamant their future is not in danger but their future may revolve around more loans from owner Derek Richardson. A scenario in which one of the Premiership clubs goes to the wall and that Saracens would then stay in the top flight has also been knocked down.
Saracens are still able to rely on the financial support of former chairman Nigel Wray and he has previously pledged to stand by the club despite standing down following the fine and points reductions which will see them operating with a much-changed squad in the Championship next season.
The Premiership clubs and Newcastle shared out £200m this season from private equity company CVC who bought a 27 percent share of the competition with 12 teams also netting £350,000 each from the Saracens fine of more than £5m but it is understood 50 per cent of that nearly £13m windfall was used to clear old debts by the clubs.
The remaining money has been used for player wages and planned stadium redevelopments leaving clubs like Gloucester facing outgoings of £1m a month with no revenue coming in. This has triggered the wage cuts that have also seen players, coaches and officials in all of the home Unions accepting smaller pay packets for the foreseeable future.
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