At the start of the month, we, The WRPA, put out a statement calling for change in the professional game in Wales, in response to the possibility of further pay cuts for our members. We pointed out that long-term financial sustainability is and was a major issue long before COVID-19. Alongside these financial problems, we also noted that trust and transparency needed to be at the core of this change.
We are pleased that alongside the PRB (Professional Rugby Board), we have been in continuous dialogue to try and find a solution to the current crisis. Relevant information to aid this process has been made available to all of our players. It is an extreme positive for the game that all parties involved, the WRU, the Regions and the WRPA, are committed to working together to ensure the game is intact through this uncertain time. We would like to thank all those involved for providing information; this sort of collaboration can only be beneficial for the long-term future of the game.
The players fully understand the precarious position the game currently faces globally and are determined to be part of constructive dialogue to effect positive change in the game. The players accept that financial uncertainty could be prolonged and as such, understand why long term pay cuts have been mooted in the media. However, we would also point out that it is equally plausible for revenues to return more quickly should social distancing, and even a vaccine, allow. This uncertainty makes it very difficult for any party to predict what the future holds and as such any decisions on cuts or long term pay cuts are complex and need to be jointly explored and agreed.
Our members will also have a justified view that they feel uncomfortable that financial sacrifices they may make now to help save the game, could enable profiteering in the long term from capital investment organisations that have recently invested in the game. It should be equally acceptable and reasonable, that if players are to effectively sacrifice and invest into the future of the game, that they too should see this sacrifice return long term. It would be unacceptable for players to help keep the game afloat only for others to make profits of the back of these sacrifices in the future.
We feel it is important to note that it is the players who inspire revenues into the game. The professional game and its associated commercial agreements are the key revenue drivers to support the game in Wales. Without the resource generated by the players for the WRU, there would be no money for the community game. The only assets of real value are the players. Their performances and their personalities are what engages the public and without them there is no game. Without their talent and ability there is no passion, pride and support for Wales. Without their image rights, there is no commercial collateral. Without the legend of the local boy who pulls on the red jersey, there is no ambition, no purpose, no aspiration for the community and school game. Players should not be maligned for their value driven by the markets in the game by other administrators, nor should they be maligned for seeking their own value in that market.
It is our view that as a collective, it is not appropriate to put players in comparative terms with the game’s administrators. There is no employment certainty beyond rugby retirement and there is little time to prepare for life after the game whilst competing at the highest level. For players to prepare and perform as a professional rugby player, they will not be able to reduce their work by even one per cent. Should they be asked to complete their work for reduced earnings, they will be asked to do so in an environment on the pitch that puts them at greater risk to Covid-19 then traditional working environments.
These issues and losses are in the frame of a professional sport career, which might, if they are lucky last 7-10 years. As such, any percentage cut of any length of time will always be a much greater burden on a player. Sadly, the sort of revenues & wages we see in professional football just do not exist in rugby and players have families, dependents, mortgages, and very short careers; potential loss of income can be devasting. This predicament isn’t just about the top international players on whose performances the game relies for its very existence, but that of the couple of hundred crucial squad players without whom the game doesn’t exist at all. For them, whose salaries, once factored by the fragility of their career prospects and short-term contracts, do not present security for life and probably create a working life profile little different to those fans who follow their teams. These players, in particular, are not expendable.
Players rightly need to protect their personal situations in a short career, however, they all realise that by playing the game itself they are part of, and responsible to, the wider team. Every team recognises the value of its varied components, the talented and the less so, the articulate and the quiet, the passionate and the cool-headed, and understands that working together they can achieve success and share in the rewards.
Our internationals recognise that their achievements create rewards that not only benefit them but vicariously their regional team-mates. They also realise that to perform at the level they aspire to, there is need for necessary infrastructure and support mechanisms. However, when the rewards are disproportionately skewed away from the players and, as in the current climate, they are asked to make sacrifices, it is right to ask questions of the existing infrastructure.
Players are not naive and immune to the current situation, as they have shown in responding collectively to the immediate crisis. As the key assets in the game, the players must be seen as integral to the resolving the difficult position the Welsh game finds itself in. However, there has to be a consensual way forward that identifies the capacity for a return to increased revenue and reflects the players’ value within it.
A realistic apportioning of, and share in, the rewards generated must be offered as a counterbalance to any necessary readjustment required to meet immediate demands. For example a clear identification of aggregated (WRU/Regions), anticipated revenues with a collectively agreed, calibrated and time-framed salary scale that anticipates the upside as well as the downside and provides for a share in the rewards would ensure that players at all levels of the professional game are appropriately remunerated and protected. The opportunity exists, if stakeholders are prepared to grasp it, to create a collective solution to the current and historical issues in the professional game.
It is against all of these points that we would all want to avoid the issues we are seeing around arbitrary pay cuts and player revolts in other countries.