CON­RAD SMITH

T he t wo-time World Cup-win­ning All Black now coach­ing at Pau

Rugby World - - FRONT ROW -

HAV­ING DONE

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.

Big-money trans­fer Lima Sopoaga swapped High­landers for Wasps

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