A long and protracted contract case has come to a successful end, allowing Japanese rugby players who wish to change teams to do so without penalty.
Until recently, players in Japan wishing to change teams have been subject to a one-year mandatory stand down – a rule set out by the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) under the collective guidance of the big companies competing in the Top League.
However, the case of Kaito Shigeno and Hikaru Tamura has affected a major cultural shift in Japanese Rugby after they managed to have the rule completely removed.
The two players, in conjunction with International Rugby Players and Japanese Rugby Players Association (JRPA), fought the case to its successful end despite missing the entire 2017-18 as a consequence. The players are now free to take up new contracts elsewhere – Shigeno transferring from NEC to Toyota, while Tamura joins Suntory from Toshiba.
Players’ representatives argued that the two cases amounted to restraint of trade in relation to the players’ employment opportunities. While this was never brought to conclusion in a courtroom, the pressure applied in this case was enough for the JRFU to back down and finally abolish the ruling.
International Rugby Players and the Japanese Rugby Players Association argued that it was unreasonable for the clubs not to release the players to continue their professional rugby careers in Japan, or at the very least, offer to re-employ them.
International Rugby Players CEO Omar Hassanein said: “We assisted the players throughout the entire process in conjunction with the JRPA, sending countless submissions to World Rugby, the JRFU and the relevant employers on this matter.
“We also raised the issue in the Japanese media to highlight how unjust this rule was. The situation has been a clear restraint of trade for so long, so it’s great to reach such a positive outcome.”
“Unfortunately for the two players, they were forced to miss the season, however the final outcome is a fantastic one with respect to all future players in the same situation. I would like to commend the bravery of both Shigeno San and Tamura San, who fought for their rights in an environment which can often be very challenging to do so,” said Hassanein.
Japanese player and JRPA Chairman Kensuke Hatakeyama said: “Firstly, I would like to thank the JRFU, the relevant stakeholders and the teams who have worked hard in reviewing the release rules.
“The JRPA was formed after Rugby World Cup 2015 and it is where the players can discuss and form opinions about ongoing issues that can improve Japanese rugby. Through many discussions with the JRFU regarding the release rule, we feel that this is a really positive outcome.
“In the past, players have had a fairly passive mindset in Japan, but now it is the role of the JRPA to form positive ideas and act on behalf of the players. This case is a positive step forward in that regard,” he added.
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