Rugby needs more characters like Ellis Genge and I’m intrigued to hear more detail about his plans for a new players’ union but the RPA deserves far more credit for what they do. He has said he’s “not making a new RPA” but I’m just not sure what commercial or legal advice he thinks was lacking from the existing players’ union in the current climate. I’ve seen all of the RPA’s recent communication to players and they’ve done a good job.
It’s a great organisation and they have constantly been giving advice in recent weeks about the pay cuts and where players stand legally. It’s also much more than that though, and its members are the envy of other players across the globe who don’t have access to the same benefits.
Whether it’s Provale in France or equivalents in the Southern Hemisphere, none can match the work of the RPA and it only costs the players around £200 per year.
The Lift the Weight campaign and Restart, which is the official charity of the RPA, are doing amazing work and players have access to 24/7 confidential counselling if they’re struggling in any way so there is a huge amount of support made available.
One thing that has come out of this that needs clearing up is the perception that the RPA might have a conflict of interest because it receives funding from the RFU and Premiership Rugby.
That simply isn’t the case because there are very separate strands to the work that the RPA does. The money from the RFU and Premiership Rugby funds the welfare and education programmes that are run.
The players’ subs, revenue generated from various events or dinners and income from commercial partners goes towards representing the players, including providing massive insurance cover.
That insurance has paid out hundreds of thousands of pounds to players this season alone and that’s money most players just wouldn’t have got otherwise because that level of cover would cost a player thousands and thousands if they were to source it themselves.
I think players are also guaranteed full pay for ten and a half months now if they’re injured, which is something the RPA has fought for as part of a standard contract for Premiership players with just the remuneration and length of contract differing between players really.
Commercially, the RPA has done a phenomenal job too and the negotiation of the England players’ contracts is a prime example of that. Players get just under £25,000 per game to play for England and that’s £8,000 more than any other country.
Again, I’m really interested to see the detail of Genge’s proposal and I’m not knocking him at all without seeing that but at the moment what he’s describing sounds more like an agency or the kind of services that an agent would provide.
He says players were “advised from the off to sign the contracts without reading them almost” but no agent worth their salt would allow their client to do that and that wasn’t the advice from the RPA at all as they laid out the options available to players.
I had a close working relationship with my agent, Duncan Sandlant of Esportif, for 16 years during my career as a professional rugby player and I would’ve trusted him with anything to do with my career so maybe some players aren’t getting that commercial and legal support from their agents.
It is different now because when I was growing up nobody really dreamed of earning big sums of money from playing rugby, whereas nowadays you do hear stories of agents selling young players the dream.
Whether that’s buying boots in bulk themselves and telling their client they’ve got a deal with a brand when that may not be the case or just not being completely up front and honest with players, not all agents are equal but a good one is worth their weight in gold and they do provide good commercial and legal advice.
I think any new union will involve players contributing a significant amount more than £200 per year so it’ll be interesting to see what they would get back for that investment because that’s the crucial thing for potential members.
It has also been mentioned that a new players’ union may be able to get funding from external sources but wealthy individuals or companies aren’t going to be queuing up to invest money that they may never see again so it’ll be interesting to see what they’d get in return.
I was the first to admit that when this situation first arose I would have been very reluctant to take a pay cut but things have moved on now and I just think it’s a reality because rugby isn’t being played and we want to have a professional sport to come back to.
I also want the players to earn as much as possible but only within the realms of what is sustainable for the game and I think, with businesses losing money hand over fist at the moment, there has to be a recognition that there may be fewer commercial opportunities and less money available in the short term when we do return rather than more.
The proof of the pudding will be in the eating in terms of Gengey’s plans and I’ll reserve judgement until we have more details but I’ve eaten a lot of puddings and I think at the moment it looks like this one needs a few more ingredients!
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