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The 11 RPA achievements that ex-CEO Damian Hopley is most proud of

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Ex-England international Damian Hopley has finished up as CEO of the Rugby Players’ Association after a final day that included a visit to Wasps – his former club – and the publication of his final thoughts column listing his most outstanding RPA achievements.  

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Hopley, who won three England caps, went to the 1995 World Cup and spent eight years at Wasps, announced on July 8 that he would be stepping down as RPA CEO after nearly 24 years in charge and he was presented with a shirt by Joe Launchbury on his final day at work just over five weeks following his ‘I’m leaving’ announcement. 

He had spent his first two years from 1998 working for free before the RPA secured greater legitimacy and the organisation has since gone on to become a major player in the evolution of rugby in England. Hopley has now listed the greatest achievements of the RPA in a lengthy column which is reproduced below: 

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“Today marks my final day at The Rugby Players Association (the RPA) almost 24 years to the day that I founded the organisation back in 1998 when professional rugby was in its infancy,” began Hopley. “As I look back and reflect on what we have achieved, I take enormous pride in the significant progress we have made to ensure that players today receive world-leading security around welfare, insurance, personal development and mental and physical wellbeing.

“As some of you may know, I founded the RPA from my front room in 1998 on the back of several knee operations after my career-ending injury. I received no support from the RFU whatsoever despite being an England international which was appalling, so I was inspired and determined that my plight should neither be in vain nor repeated for professional players going forward. 

“For the first two years we had no income apart from member subscriptions of £100 per annum, and we worked for free because we were so passionate about the cause of player welfare. However, we did have the most important currency in the game – The Players’ Voice and that is still true of all player associations around the world today. 

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“Every single players’ association receives money from the sport within which they operate, be that TV monies, revenue share or a direct payment from the sport as happens in many rugby territories, but our independence and value to our members have never been more important than it is today.

“Those first few years and beyond were both exciting and terrifying in equal measure as we battled and worked with the authorities on several fronts in delivering the following for our membership: 

  1. We agreed on long-term funding and an investment plan that delivered millions of pounds of investment into our welfare programmes; 
  2. We negotiated a standard contract that gave the players security, including three months of guaranteed payment in the case of career-ending injury (it is now improved to 10.5 months full pay); 
  3. We represented and won hundreds of legal and employment claims for our members;
  4. We created a successful insurance plan for the RPA members, which has a 70 per cent plus success record to this day; 
  5. We established several new and lucrative revenue streams across corporate partners and commercial events, generating millions of pounds of incremental revenue to invest in player programmes; 
  6. We introduced education grants to support and foster our members’ off-field development and these are being re-introduced this season after a two-year hiatus due to covid;
  7. We became the exclusive negotiator for the British and Irish Lions player contracts, a role we proudly continue to this day; 
  8. We took over the exclusive commercial management of the England team after their outstanding RWC win in 2003 to make the England players the best paid in the world on a game-by-game basis for match fees, image rights and tournament bonuses;
  9. We started working on the development programme with the Red Roses in 2014 ahead of their RWC success and then became the exclusive commercial representatives of the Red Roses in 2021, working with the RFU to make improvements to the women’s game;
  10. We established our official charity, Restart, and have raised millions of pounds to support worthy player causes; 
  11. We were a founding member of International Rugby Players, which I was privileged to chair from 2007 to 2017 before Patrick Manley took over as our first independent chair with Omar Hassanein and his team doing a brilliant job on behalf of supporting players worldwide.

“Not a bad return from a standing start and a vision and collective passion for working hard and supporting our members. I have been fortunate to get around a number of clubs in my final weeks with my colleagues to catch up with many players and outline the exciting vision for the RPA going forward.

“I closed out my time at the RPA on Monday at my beloved Wasps, the club that gave me my start on this extraordinary journey in rugby; as a fan watching my eldest brother, Phil; as a player with some of the greats of my time and then as an administrator supporting, representing and shaping the game in England. It is fitting that I will leave the game where I started, at the best club in the world bar none.

“It has been my absolute privilege to lead the RPA in representing, supporting and developing thousands of players as well as work with so many talented colleagues, stakeholders and business partners during that time. I’m not, as many have suggested, retiring (I wish), but I will take some time out, reflect on the outstanding success of the RPA and then see where the next opportunities lie. My book will definitely be a good read.

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“I want to say an enormous thank you to you all for your support over the years. I owe rugby an awful lot despite the heartbreak of a career-ending injury at 27 and the 13 operations that followed, but I wouldn’t change what happened to me for anything. My abiding hope is that future generations of players can also look back with unabashed pride at their legacy of leaving our game in a better place than where they found it.

“Good luck to you all for the season ahead, especially in both the women’s and men’s forthcoming RWCs. I look forward to seeing great things from the RPA, IRP and our beloved game in the future.”

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