For as long as anyone can remember there has been debate about players being paid to play Rugby Union. It caused the creation of the 13-man League code with Union staunchly remaining amateur, although many of us remember stories of ‘boot money’ and players being given mythical jobs by club benefactors.
When the game went professional in 1995 it was no longer illegal to pay players to play rugby, but even 20 years on many clubs below the Premiership and Championship are still reluctant to admit that theirs is anything but amateur. In most cases this is true but there are a significant number of clubs playing at quite modest levels who feel that paying players is the right thing to do.
Clubs at Levels 3 and 4 (National 1 and National 2 North & South) are regarded as semi-pro as are clubs at Level 5 to a certain extent, although there are some notable examples of clubs playing at these levels that don’t pay any players.
On my travels around clubs in Eastern Counties the overwhelming desire is for paying players to be discouraged at lower levels as it is perceived to be bad for the game overall. The reasons cited are that it creates an uneven playing field between those that pay and those that don’t, it is encouraging the development of the ‘journeyman player’ who moves from club to club depending on who will pay him the most, and club loyalty is damaged.
At the RFU Council meeting on Friday 14 October the Community Game Board tabled a set of proposals to try to deal with these concerns plus others, such as clubs paying players rather than investing in developing their youth section or in improving their facilities.
A link to the proposals is below but here are some of the highlights:
- Clubs will have to make an annual declaration saying if they pay any of their players and how much
- If any clubs at Level 6 and below pay their players then they will not receive any financial support from the RFU, such as:
- Travel payments
- Payments from the Supplemental Ticket Fund introduced this season
- Loans or grants to help with facility development
- Being considered as a site for one of the 100 RFU funded or jointly funded Artificial Grass Pitches being installed over the next four years
- Clubs at Levels 3, 4 and 5 will be allowed to pay players up to an amount not exceeding
- £150k for clubs at Level 3, about £150 per player per game
- £100k for clubs at Level 4, about £100 per player per game
- £50k for clubs at level 5, about £50 per player per game
You should read the whole paper to understand all the details but I am broadly supportive of the proposals as far as Level 6 and below clubs are concerned. For Level 3 to 5 clubs there may need to be some work on the amount of the payment limit but again I am broadly in favour. It is important to remember that clubs at any level are at liberty to pay players and that clubs at Levels 3 to 5 can exceed the stated limits. No sanction will be brought against them nor will they they face any kind of penalty other than not being able to access RFU funding.
The loss of RFU support for clubs at Level 6 and below could be significant, not so much in terms of travel payments which are negligible for most clubs when you get to Level 8, nor even the ticket supplement of about £1000 which clubs are yet to start receiving, but in terms of RFU help with facility development. Hundreds of clubs have made use, many more than once, of the RFF Groundmatch grant for equipment purchases of up to £10,000, a useful amount for most clubs, and they will forsake being considered for major grants towards projects such as floodlights or clubhouse extensions/refurbishment. In Eastern Counties there is not a single club that has not benefitted in some way from RFU help with its facilities in the past 12 years.
Level 3 to 5 clubs that exceed the limit will lose travel funding but the amounts are not as high as you would think. On average National One clubs receive about £10,500 in travel grants with Blaydon in the North East (£18k) and Plymouth Albion in the South West (£23k) getting the highest amounts. But with some playing budgets rumoured to be well in excess of £500k, the loss of £10k or less is comparatively insignificant.
In National 2 North the largest travel grant is just under £8,000 and in National 2 South the average is a little under £9,000, although some clubs in the South West receive in the region of £20k. I only have figures for the London & South East Division where clubs receive about £1100 on average but those situated near the Suffolk and Norfolk coast generally receive in excess of £3500 :
- Level 5; Highest £2971, Lowest £660, Average £1001
- Level 6; Highest £5200, Lowest £330, Average £1308
- Level 7; Highest £3549, Lowest £0, Average £1031
- Level 8: Highest £3797, Lowest £0, Average £1150
My conclusion is that an inland club without a need for any facilities help probably won’t be much affected by paying players or exceeding the limits.
Will the self-declaration proposal work? A cynic would say that if a club wants to circumvent the rules then they will find a way. However, it is likely that at least one of the four officers required to sign the declaration, President, Chairman, Hon Secretary and Treasurer, is a member of a professional body or cannot afford to have his/her integrity questioned if it is discovered that they have made a false statement. No doubt there will be one or two unscrupulous clubs that will do their best to pay players and still receive RFU funding, but the penalties for being found out are likely to be harsh and could include deduction of league points.
Are these proposals necessary? Ultimately that is for clubs to decide through their Council Members who according to the published timetable will be asked to vote on them at the 2 December Council meeting. For my part I will be writing to club officials in Eastern Counties to ask for their views, I will attend what county meetings I can in the next seven weeks and I will be discussing the subject at clubs I visit.
Meanwhile, I would value any opinions and debate posted on this blog or on my Facebook and Twitter accounts.
You can read the tabled proposals by clicking here