Frustrated Premiership players are considering setting up a breakaway player union due to dissatisfaction over how the Rugby Players’ Association (the RPA) have acted during the coronavirus pandemic. Amid across the board pay cuts enforced by the clubs, Damian Hopley’s longstanding union have been accused of ‘not turning up’ in the crisis due to its heavy reliance on funding from Premiership Rugby. 

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The sense of injustice is further fuelled by how clubs have allegedly colluded not to sign each other players, leaving about 55 top-flight players in limbo as they are coming to the end of their current contracts on June 30 with nothing agreed beyond that date. 

There has also been speculation that some clubs are looking to reduce the £7million salary cap, a development that would put a further squeeze on player wages if implemented.  

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According to a report in the Telegraph, an unnamed source claimed the breakaway union would have the immediate backing of upwards of 100 players. “I know that there are wheels in motion for an independent union,” it was claimed amid concerns over RPA’s ability to act as an independent mediator in talks with clubs.

“I’d like to think that what comes out of this is an independent body going forward because you can’t have players negotiating with owners and chief execs about the futures of their careers – that’s the whole reason we have agents, right?

“You can’t negotiate your own contract because you don’t want to deal with the bloke who is trying to pick you every week if you want to get an extra five grand. If you want to know how effective the RPA can be, we have just found out. This is the biggest thing that has happened in sport and they have not turned up.

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“Ultimately, there is no game without players and they are the last to be considered. Shouldn’t they be the first priority, not just from a legal but also a welfare point of view, to safeguard the game?

“The other issue we have as rugby players is that the RPA has no leverage to act on our behalf because they are funded by PRL. Unless they can be a truly independent organisation, we have no representation. 

“Until we can have a uniform response to all clubs, owners and chief execs that says: ‘This is our stance’, we won’t be protected. They have closed the market, essentially, and they have done it because we have no representation from a union that can step in for us.”

RPA boss Hopley defended the work of his organisation amid the pandemic-enforced financial crisis. “We believe that we have tried to get as much advice, information and direction to the players as possible,” he said.

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“We also understand the position that the clubs are in because of the urgency of Covid-19 and the speed at which all this happened… we’d be kidding ourselves if we thought everyone was thrilled with everything we are doing but I do think we have tried to be a positive influence in an unsettling time.”

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