As the game marks one year to go until Rugby World Cup 2019, much of the debate rightly centers around Tier Two nations, equality – or lack thereof – in the game and how we can work together with the governing body to make these sides into strong, competitive nations that can challenge at the pinnacle of the sport.
It’s something International Rugby Players has been advocating for some time and we are constantly lobbying the powers-that-be for positive change.
This isn’t just a question of equality – if the authorities really want to “grow the game outside the traditional heartlands”, then we need to look at ways of truly developing the teams on the under-card so that they too can dream of lifting the Webb Ellis Trophy at some point in the future.
The following are the main points from a letter we sent to World Rugby earlier this year and followed up with a meeting at their headquarters in Dublin on September 4. It outlines what we think needs to be done to help players in Tier Two countries, and while we don’t expect this to be implemented in time for Rugby World Cup 2019, we fully expect this to be considered for the 2023 cycle and beyond.
Improving our game for Tier Two Nations
Considering the changing landscape of the game, including the increased influence of the European Club scene, we believe it is of paramount importance that a model be developed to address several issues surrounding Tier Two players in the modern international game. Primarily, we seek to agree a model which addresses existing poor payment structures to Tier Two players for representing their country (both during and outside of RWC) – structures that are loose and unreliable in nature.
We believe two immediate solutions that should be explored in relation to the above, are:
(a) devising a split income model which involves specific monies (outside of existing high performance funds) being set aside for player payments over the 4 year cycle; and
(b) implementing global policy which obliges host Tier One unions to allocate a greater percentage of overall match revenues to their visiting Tier Two opponents
Our reasons behind proposing such models is as follows:
- Players from Tier Two Unions who ply their trade in the knowledge that they will get paid reasonably will do more for the development of rugby at this level than a lot of the activity currently being funded, making them much greater contributors to their sport.
- Players need certainty to live and provide for their families. All the best strength coaches, kicking coaches etc. in the world become futile in instances where players haven’t been paid for months and are filled with worry. A direct player payment model would alleviate so much of this, and in turn would assist World Rugby’s objectives greatly by promoting better competition at the very top level.
- Combined with a guaranteed fixture list for Tier Two nations, it will allow teams at this level to build greater consistency and depth to their squads over time that will in turn result in an improved RWC showing. There have been numerous examples in recent years where players are being released by their European clubs (either via the window or via Reg 9), yet are avoiding playing for their country as the personal ‘risk vs reward’ ledger just doesn’t stack up. Equally, lack of faith in their national union management sees them becoming further disenfranchised.
— The42.ie Rugby (@rugby_ie) September 20, 2018
- Following the establishment of such a model, opportunity then exists to require Tier Two National Unions and Players to reach collective agreements on how these funds will be used to pay players from the amount provisioned, and to agree a wide range of normal employment terms within.
- As a complimentary element to the above model, meritocracy payments should also be considered to reward individuals who contribute to RWC team success at the highest level. This should be in recognition of the additional broadcast value (and subsequent related values) that they bring to the tournament when progressing beyond the group stages.
- Commercial reward must be considered for the participants in line with the image rights they forego to participate in this tournament every four years – the abilities of players to endorse their own individual brands is eroded during the period of the RWC, yet World Rugby benefit from pooling the collective image rights of all players during this period. and commercialising accordingly.
The Rugby World Cup is the best opportunity our sport has to kick-start a proper change that will genuinely grow the game, raise the hopes of all nations and ultimately this can benefit all stakeholders at all levels. The alternative is to let the sport stand still and stagnate.
We have a choice and we’re calling on the governing body, unions, clubs and all partners to do the right thing.
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