Wednesday, February 04, 2015

World Rugby / IRB: Part 2 Money & Ownership of Responsibility


In November last year I wrote a piece the week the IRB re-branded itself as World Rugby. The exam question and I suppose what bothered me the most was, whether simply rebranding itself was enough?  On the back of last weeks piece on the Nouveau Aristocratsusing their money to effectively buy players, position (trophies) and power, I still believe that World Rugby should be more heavily involved with the control and policing of rugby down to grassroots levels so there is a level playing field, that new and developing countries understand the foundations required and there is at least some equity across the game.

Yes they have a fantastic vision, IRB (World Rugby) Strategic Plan 2010 - 2020 but if you read their 9 strategic goals I question how they are they achieving some of them? At this current time, they are not doing enough to control the game and thereby failing rugby in its most simplest remit in some critical areas.

Take just a couple of examples and yes they’re based on this weeks theme………;

Strategic Goal No 1: Protect and promote Rugby, its values, spirit and ethos;

KPI 2: No growth of actions tarnishing the image of the Game

KPI 5: Robust Regulatory Framework delivered

KPI 2: No growth of actions tarnishing the image of the Game


How can this be achieved when you have certain European clubs flouting the rules and regulations regarding funding, salary caps and even reports of players being paid to be “Unavailable” for National selection? Likewise billionaire / millionaire chairmen stating that they should claim compensation from National Unions for loss of “Their” players? What sort of mentality or values and ethos of rugby is that? I’d certainly and comfortably state that it IS a“Growth of action tarnishing the game”

KPI 5: Robust Regulatory Framework delivered

Under this I will look at only 1 area…………...Salary Caps: Well this is the thing. Salary Caps are designed to keep overall costs down, and most importantly, to ensure parity between teams so wealthy teams cannot entrench dominance by signing many more top players than their rivals!

Given what is happening in France and the whole manner in which certain club chairmen (RC Toulon) has allegedly flouted the French salary cap rules, which in turn has directly caused another country (English Premiership) to increase year on year their own cap oh AND the same French chairman to fund increased pay to (Sir) Jonny Wilkinson, not forgetting that those French players who represent their national team get an additional €100K, I therefore question the whole salary cap issue and the effect it is having on the game and the longer term effect it will lead to? And lets not forget that certain English Premiership teams are heavily financed by private wealthy backers as well and so it goes on……………….whatever it takes, at any lengths to ensure trophies are bought….oops sorry won!

So what are World Rugby / IRB doing about this issue?

Quite frankly, I’m afraid we are going to see clubs going into liquidation purely because they either have stretched themselves too much financially OR they cannot source a private financial backer. Look at the French club Biarritz Olympique, winners of the French Top 14 5 times, Heineken Cup Runners Up twice, Challenge Cup winners etc now in the French Pro D2 and a certain famous English Premiership club who were almost in receivership in the last few years?

Given these facts, plus the system of payments within the English premiership which is causing some clubs to be disadvantaged e.g. London Welsh, will we see those who ultimately control the game through money, success (based on trophies won through money) dictate to the clubs and the governing body on what will happen, how it will happen and when it will happen?

There appears to be NO legal grounding for this even within the European Commission rulings. France Top 14 is set at it’s basic cap of circa €10M. English Premiership at €6.2M, Welsh Regions are set at circa €4.4M etc.

The Irish, Scottish & Italian Unions however, don’t have a Salary Cap system and in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia have a cap of €3.1M, N.Zealand €0.9M and South Africa have none?

Their are ‘Hard’ Caps, ‘Soft’ Caps, ‘Salary’ floors………….the English Premiership rules and regulations on this one issue run to more than 60+ pages??

The IRFU CEO, Philip Browne has stated, "The dominance of the European market, particularly France and England, has skewed the rugby economy internationally and is a worry to all……….This has put a strain on Unions around the world that are operating a 'centrally Union owned' club or franchise model and Ireland is no exception. We are going to find it more difficult to hold players here in Ireland as salaries in the UK and France inflate more rapidly."

So what actions are World Rugby as the governing body taking to ensure that this growing issue, which I believe will continue to grow and affect many clubs and have an unnecessary knock-on effect to some National teams, is regulated? World Rugby has its own regulatory body and legal framework but where’s the strong arm behind it to ensure the whole game and the monetary aspects are policed correctly.

World Rugby has a plethora of stated aims all covering the good of the game for all including;

  • Charter and Laws seen to reflect the values, spirit and ethos and are adhered to

@bigjoeshep Comment: National Unions and Clubs must work together to achieve this instead of allowing Haves & Have Nots within regional leagues to be created?

  • No growth of actions tarnishing the image of the Game

@bigjoeshep Comment: See above paragraph on this!

  • Robust Regulatory Framework delivered

@bigjoeshep Comment: Then WR/IRB need to work together with Governments, National Unions & Clubs to achieve this.

  • Average points spread lower

@bigjoeshep Comment: This cannot happen if the money-men are controlling the game…..they are interested in creating a Top Tier of select clubs in each league. Smaller clubs will continue to be beaten by huge margins and on a regular basis.

  • WR/IRB seen to take the lead on issues in the Game and resolve them

@bigjoeshep Comment: This is one of a number issues that IS and will CONTINUE to affect the game. Look at what we have created within Association Football. The Haves & Have Nots?


Now, I’m actually not against money, private or otherwise being ploughed into the game to support the National & Club infrastructure, Training facilities, Kit & equipment, Associated travel costs, Academies & Schools, Local clubs and hey, so much more BUT I do have an issue with individual’s who have vast amounts of money being able to “Buy” success through club and player acquisition. It simply creates an uneven playing field (excuse that one!) and causes many knock-on effects such as other leagues and clubs upping the ante to keep up.

Where does it stop? How much will a player be worth in transfer costs in 10 years? €100M like some footballers are? This also knocks on the costs of attending games for fans, cost of merchandise rising. Before long you end up with those who can keep up. World Rugby / IRB has to stand by it’s Vision and Mission through its Regional representative, Rugby Europe and the other 5 Regional reps around the globe.

Finally and the key take away is once again this on the requirement of salary caps, Salary Caps are designed to keep overall costs down, and most importantly, to ensure parity between teams so wealthy teams cannot entrench dominance by signing many more top players than their rivals!
@bigjoeshep is the Owner and Head of Information & Knowledge Management atDigital Knowledge Zone.   An avid Leinster & Ireland Rugby fan, he came to rugby at the late age of 24, was a tight head prop, had at least 2 good runs in every game and retired at only 36 after 3 operations on his legs and now forms the 4th "virtual" person in a front row each time his beloved teams are playing (much to the annoyance of his suffering girlfriend who has to put up with being "embraced" by the Big Fella at each scrum!!!)
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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019