French T14 rugby still gets away with breaching IRB regulations
In the recent ‘global international window’ in June, those who followed Argentina’s Pumas against the touring French may have wondered how the French T14 clubs managed, yet again, to avoiding releasing Puma players to their national team.
The T14 competition, incidentally, finished on June 9 this year.
The answer is that they struck a deal with the UAR, in which the bulk of the Pumas French-based players (aside from the retiring Felipe Contemponi and initially the ageing warrior Rodrigo Roncero) were rested in June, so as not to exceed the ‘player welfare’ limits on how many games can be played in a year.
The difficulty with this answer is that the agreement itself was in contravention of IRB Regulation 9.
Regulation 9 (“Availability of players”), after amendment in the last two years, is quite clear on a number of matters, and emphasises them by repeating them several times throughout the Regulation.
First, players have a right to play for their country, and must be free to exercise that right. This is explicitly stated in Reg. 9.3.
Secondly, international rugby is paramount, and players must be released in the applicable international windows. For the TRC teams, these are now three weeks in June, six of the eight weeks of the TRC in August to October, and three weeks in November.
Thirdly, “…a Union, Association, Rugby Body or Club is obliged to release a Player to the Union for which the Player is eligible…in accordance with the provisions of this Regulation 9.”
Fourthly, “[No] Club whether by contract, conduct or otherwise may inhibit, prevent, discourage, disincentivise or render unavailable any Player from selection, attendance and appearance in a National Representative Team.”
Also in Reg. 9.3, “Any agreement and/or arrangement between a Player and a Rugby Body or Club or between a Union or an Association and a Rugby Body or Club (and/or any proposal made and/or attempted to be made howsoever communicated) which is contrary to this Regulation 9.3 is prohibited.”
Finally, clubs cannot impose conditions on or seek payment for player release in the appointed window periods.
The Argentine-French agreement was to the effect that in order to allow the Puma players from the top 14 their mandatory annual rest periods, the Pumas would not select the T14 players in the June window, but would select them for TRC. The agreement has been clothed in the guise of a player welfare matter, but it is like the emperor’s new suit. The agreement breaches Regulation 9 in at least four respects.
The players’ right to play for their country has been compromised. The clubs’ conduct in entering the agreement has inhibited the players’ appearance for the Pumas. The agreement itself is a prohibited arrangement under 9.3. The clubs have effectively breached Reg 9.4 by imposing a condition on the later release of the players for TRC.
No doubt the explanations for what happened will trumpet it as a victory for player welfare and rest. Do not be fooled. What has happened is that because the French club season goes for so long, it is impossible to fit the prescribed rest periods into the year alongside the three relevant release windows for the main southern hemisphere sides.
The intent and effect of the new Regulation 9 is clear. The players must be available and released in the international windows. Any conduct (very widely defined) that prevents or even discourages that is prohibited. The regulations themselves were designed to account for player welfare in the setting of the windows in the first place, as stated in the preamble.
What has occurred this year is that the T14 clubs have stolen the June test window away from the Puma team, in breach of Regulation 9, to use it for a rest period that their own extensive season does not provide.
One could mount a strong argument that the LNR, in organising the T14 at the current length of that competition, resulting in the ensuing compromise on player availability, is by that act alone committing “conduct or otherwise” that “may inhibit, prevent, discourage, disincentivise or render unavailable any Player from selection, attendance and appearance in a National Representative Team”.
It is time for the IRB to take serious action.
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