The Daily Telegraph - Business : 2020-07-01

Sport : 19 : 11

Sport

11 The Daily Telegraph Wednesday 1 July 2020 *** Gavin Mairs Chief Rugby Correspond­ent Club game’s wounds will take time to heal have been forced to introduce cuts of up to 25 per cent, sources say some resentment may linger about how the process has been managed. Agents insist that some clubs were looking to make cuts even before the lockdown and that the Covid-19 pandemic gave them the platform to accelerate plans. “Instead of saying, ‘OK, how are we going to find our way through this?’ there were two or three clubs who were itching to act and tackle the inflationa­ry wages,” said one source. “Salary payments in March were not affected, so there was time to look at the implicatio­ns of furloughin­g. It was the alacrity that caused all the issues. “Good faith was also eroded when positions that had been agreed were then changed.” The best-run clubs have found a way through the challenges founded on a healthy working relationsh­ip between management and their players and have held regular dialogue with the senior player group to ensure decisions were explained thoroughly in the context of the club’s finances. At the other end of the spectrum, agents speak of nightmare Fault-lines emerge between those who have been able to shield staff and others who have cut wages T here appears to be no end in sight to rugby union’s summer of discontent. The stand-off between Leicester and their star players over proposed pay cuts is the latest controvers­y to flare up and overshadow the work being done to get the Premiershi­p restarted in August. Confirmati­on is expected soon that Premiershi­p clubs will be able to move to stage-two training – a return to squad contact – on Monday. And yet the spotlight continues to be shone on the discord between some players and their clubs. The immediate impact of the dispute is not yet clear, although it will have undoubtedl­y been a headache for incoming Leicester head coach Steve Borthwick and director of rugby Geordan Murphy as they attempt to rebuild the club’s reputation as an English rugby powerhouse. The episode, combined with a similar situation at London Irish, raises questions about the effect of the lockdown on the relationsh­ip between players and clubs. Speaking to a number of agents yesterday, a theme emerged: a fault line appears to be forming between clubs who have been able to largely shelter their players from the financial crisis, and those who have not. “There are two ends of the scale here. The likes of Bristol players will be sleeping in their playing kit and have framed photos of Steve Lansdown (Bristol owner) on their bedside tables and name children after him,” said one leading agent. “Read the same for Exeter, Bath, Northampto­n and Harlequins. Leicester, Gloucester, and London Irish? Not so much.” Another agent said: “There is a gulf between how some clubs have acted properly and those who have not. Players are not going to forget how they have been treated. It will have a big impact on retention and recruitmen­t in further years and, in the short term, on performanc­e.” Money talks, but although the financial situation at each club has ultimately decided which have been able to honour contracts and which ‘There is a gulf between some clubs who have acted properly and those who have not’ boundaries of the city’s newly instated lockdown following a coronaviru­s spike, Taute had not perceived too big a change. “It’s frustratin­g that we are in lockdown for two weeks, but I am sure we can get through it,” he said. “We’re still able to come here, train “I know that people are talking to each other and hopefully everyone can reach a mutual agreement. It’s been a tough situation but, from both parties, everyone is doing their best to find mutual agreements.” Although Leicester’s Oadby training base falls within the and practice social distancing. We wear masks, have a temperatur­e check every morning and fill in a questionna­ire. “It’s been great and we’ve done well. Hopefully as a community we can bring down the cases so things can turn back to a bit of normal.” scenarios in which a player was handed a contract late in the day and told to sign it that night. The lack of transparen­cy has impacted player relations, even when sensible business decisions have been made. “A player on a decent contract might have been told he has to take a chunky cut, whereas a young player in the same squad might be offered an increase but at a reduced rate than would have been expected,” said one agent. “It may be the right decision but when the word gets out that some players have had a rise and some have had a cut, it can be divisive. “Another area of contention has been whether the cuts are permanent or instead linked to an upturn in the business.” The consequenc­e appears to have led to a seminal moment, one, in which players are increasing­ly being regarded as assets or commoditie­s more akin to their football counterpar­ts. “Players are also becoming more pragmatic now,” said one agent. “The boyhood dream of representi­ng your local club is being eroded. This is a business and people need to realise that.” Joyce: Sevens merger can lead to gold in Tokyo to the board of UK Sport in the hope the funding agency would support a merger, with Bill Sweeney, chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, highlighti­ng that coronaviru­s had been a “catalyst” for the proposal. England are the only home nation to fund a profession­al women’s sevens side on the World Rugby Sevens Series, and Joyce insists joining forces would provide opportunit­ies for female players within Wales and Scotland’s ranks. “It’s really important for that to happen, especially for us as women,” said Joyce, who was one of just three Welsh women named in the initial 24-strong GB women’s sevens squad for Tokyo 2020. “Wales and Scotland aren’t on the world circuit, so we’re not getting the exposure of playing against the highest teams. It’s really important it happens sooner rather than later, just so we’re able to prepare as Team GB, who are going to compete in the Olympics, rather than us training as Wales, Scotland and England and coming together on a few camps before we compete on the biggest stage in the world. We would have such a good chance of winning gold at the Olympics.” Joyce has set her sights on competing in both the delayed Games and the XVs World Cup in New Zealand next year. Just 40 days separate the events but, having signed last month for Bristol, the 24-year-old is confident she can prime herself for both codes. “I’m so young and I just want to achieve as much as I can,” said Joyce, who juggles rugby with a career as a personal trainer. By Fiona Tomas Welsh Olympian Jasmine Joyce has backed the idea of a unified Great Britain sevens women’s side which should happen “sooner rather than later” to boost the prospects of a gold medal at next year’s Olympics. England, Wales and Scotland men’s and women’s sevens teams could merge, as a long-term result of the pandemic, in a cost-cutting move to improve playing standards. Last week, presentati­ons were submitted

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