T he t wo-time World Cup-winning All Black now coaching at Pau
a law degree, I was comfortable negotiating my first contract, but when it came to my second I felt a little awkward having a conversation about what I was worth! I got an agent and I’ve had one ever since.
Agents play a vital role in rugby but globally there are no specific regulations relating to agents, such as who can become an agent and what are the minimum standards that they have to adhere to.
World Rugby’s Regulation Five leaves it up to national unions to regulate agents and the more developed countries have successfully done so. But in countries such as Japan, Canada, Scotland and the Pacific Islands there are no regulations.
Rugby is a global sport and player transfers are increasingly played out in a global market which demands World Rugby regulation, in the same way foul play and anti-doping are regulated.
This is what I’m working on in my role with International Rugby Players (IRP). The goal is to replace Regulation Five with a requirement that all agents are internationally registered and all clubs and unions are obliged to deal only with registered agents. The process would ensure that before representing players, every applicant would have to complete education modules and demonstrate a sound knowledge of the basic principles of contract law and an understanding of relevant World Rugby rules, such as the release and eligibility for Test rugby.
The reformed Regulation Five would also place basic requirements on the player-agent relationship – all contracts must be in writing, with disclosure of the fees paid, and the player can terminate the agreement with one month’s notice.
From my time as a player and particularly in my role for IRP, I hear plenty of stories where agents have let down their players, but I know that for every rogue agent there are plenty of agents who serve their players very well.
So it’s not surprising that the majority of agents are fully behind this initiative. They want to add more credibility to the system and enhance their status within the sport. This is not so much about cracking down on agents, but rather acknowledging the role they play and ensuring they adhere to requirements regarding how they should operate.
Young players are particularly vulnerable to approaches from agents and I see the regulation offering a real service for them. Unfortunately, I hear numerous examples of agents finalising a contract but when things go wrong, they don’t want to deal with it and players can’t track them down. The regulations would provide protection for those players.
Complaints from players, relating to breaches of the minimum requirements, would be referred to a committee that could reprimand or deregister agents. Any regulation needs teeth and we’d want to address situations when an agent breaks rules. Lessons need to be taken from other sports, football in particular, where any attempt to adopt measures controlling the influence of agents is incredibly difficult. Rugby needs to be proactive as we could be facing the same problems within a short space of time.
The agent’s cut on any transfer fee is an interesting issue too. There is often a genuine conflict with agents who receive significantly greater income from a contract involving a transfer between clubs, particularly overseas, as opposed to re-signing with the current club. I’ve a lot of respect for agents in New Zealand, but they make a lot of money if a player signs overseas rather than stays put.
The regulation will not necessarily solve this problem but with a system that controls all agents, when a solution is agreed, there will be means for this to be enforced across the game. This, to me, is the biggest advantage of the regulation.
World Rugby are fully behind it, we are behind it, agents are behind it – it’s now about how we get it in place.
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