In my previous article, I wrote about how a small number of loss-making French and English clubs are causing a wages arms race. This arms race is threatening the competitiveness and financial sustainability of professional rugby worldwide.

I believe that World Rugby must decisively take hold of the situation. In this article, I suggest some rules they can enforce to do so.

1. Incentivise Player Development

The world game cannot thrive without good player development. Wealthy clubs and their backers have the potential to assist greatly in this by investing in youth schemes.

This is good for the national team and can be very effective for the club. For example, Saracens have developed a solid core of homegrown talent that is the backbone of both England’s and their own recent success.

Saracens have done a great job of nurturing home-grown talent.
By Clément Bucco-Lechat, via Wikimedia Commons

However, whenever a club – or school or union – entices players from elsewhere they are acting as a parasite, sucking some of the lifeblood out of whoever developed the player without giving anything back. This system actually incentivises taking players for free now, rather than spending time and money growing the future.

I would like to see a mandatory compensation system, with substantial payments to either the developing club(s) or union, or a fund to supplement the remuneration of their remaining players. For the “rich,” this will both reduce their buying power and incentivise their own player development. It will also make it easier for the “poor” to develop and/or retain players.

2. End persistent deficit spending

Winning sporting trophies through deficit spending is sometimes referred to as “financial doping.” It is likened to athletes gaining an unfair advantage by taking drugs because a club is able to buy better players than their opponents. It also makes it much easier to entice players from elsewhere by offering artificially high wages.

The obvious answer is to regulate it. For instance, a club is not allowed to bring in players if they haven’t on average broken even over the past three years.

The obvious question is how easy will it be to enforce; we will look to soccer to see how UEFA goes with its Financial Fair Play rule. But at the very least, it should put an end to the worst excesses.

3. Foreign player quotas

Having too many foreigners in club rugby hurts the national team because there are fewer homegrown players available for the test team. France is a prime example of this.

Countries like Ireland and New Zealand have strict rules on this. Worldwide, I would set a limit of say 30% of a 15, 23 and wider squad that aren’t born in the club’s country. This would close the loophole whereby clubs currently recruit very young players to beat residency rules. Having read of the plight of some such players, I would also require that everyone brought in from overseas earn a minimum wage and have a suitable severance package.

I would also abolish the residency rule for test rugby for anybody who moved to a country in order to play rugby.

4. Let’s discuss it!

Those are my ideas. What do you think of them and what would you do?

Author: JD Kiwi

JD Kiwi currently lives in northern England, trying to find enough waking hours to work, be a devoted family man, and watch too much rugby. He supports the All Blacks, Chiefs and Waikato but also enjoys watching European rugby.

As a player he was was the shortest lock and slowest pace bowler in New Zealand. His favourite sporting achievement was winning the annual bowling cup for his small town Second XI.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hi JD, great article! You have some really sensible suggestions here. I think some of the English and Pro14 clubs might well be quite happy if something like this were proposed. The main sticking point for me is that they won’t be able to compete in Europe against French teams unless the French also stick to the same rules. Given the lack of control the French Union has over their own clubs, I am not sure they could ever agree to a solution like this.

    There is also legal problem over imposing quotas based on nationality. I’m not a practicing lawyer but I do have a Law degree and some understanding of this. It is probably in breach of European laws around restraint of trade. Even after the Brits leave, French and Italian clubs couldn’t legally enforce those laws.

  2. Hi Daniel, thanks as always for a good discussion.

    I think you’ve hit upon some important points.

    1. This will benefit a lot of French and English clubs, who don’t want to lose lots of money, or are successful in developing their own players. They can be allies in this.

    2. If England do this and France don’t, English clubs will become less competitive. It needs to come from World Rugby.

    3. Enforceability. My understanding is that in cricket the ECB were able to enforce quotas, first by cutting central funding to rogue counties and then by getting the Home Office to effectively quash Kokpak. But you have a better understanding of these things than me!

    I do think though that it’s important not to be too Draconian on the clubs. Measure one is only fair and measure two may appeal to a lot of owners. If they are enforced there may be no need for measure three.

    Cheers, JDK

    • Hi JD, I think the county sides still get Kolpack players. I looked on the ESPN Cricinfo site and it looks like Morne Morkel is the latest target for it. The same would apply for South Africans trying to play rugby in France, as the Kolpack thing is EU law too. As far as I know, and I’m no expert, if the UK or EU had trade agreements with the likes of Australia and New Zealand, it would be difficult to stop those guys coming over as well. You have a good point though that if they sort the first 2 things out, it doesn’t matter so much anyway.

  3. Hi JD, great article.

    Well layed out and very easy to read . I think that Ireland and New Zealand have been the best examples of combating the financial prowess of the Top 14 and the Aviva Premiership. We need to avoid a situation where the international game gets dwarfed by club interests.

    However, the IRL and NZ models won’t work as well with SA and ARG , even some of the Celtic nations are struggling to fight player drain to the big clubs .

    This article from Gerry Thornley of the Irish times will further validate some of the points that you have been making . World Rugby has to entice clubs to be managed responsibly like Exeter and La Rochelle . I think a carrot and stick approach is best to help solve this problem .
    Great work .

    https://www.irishtimes.com/sport/rugby/gerry-thornley-it-s-time-to-stand-up-to-the-english-clubs-1.3241897

    • Thanks for sharing that Patrick. New Zealand and Ireland both seem to be largely successful at retaining their players and winning rugby matches. No coincidence I think. We are so lucky to have 4 or 5 nationally accountable regions between the clubs and the national team.

      The bottom line is that as far as public interest, rugby quality and profitability are all concerned, it’s the World Cup, Lions tours, other tests in that order, with club rugby a long way behind. It’s patently obvious that World Needs to stop dysfunctional clubs from ruining what really matters.

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