Exclusive: Contracts are killing the rights of NRL footballers

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The Sydney Roosters' signing of Blake Ferguson for an office job is a shrewd move for their football team, if not for their PR department. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

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In an exclusive, The Roar can reveal that the Rugby League Players Association has identified contractual agreements between clubs and their players as the biggest threat to footballer’s rights in the modern era.

While acknowledging that player burnout, pharmacological experimentation and wet balls are all definitely on the Association’s radar as pertinent issues, it is tackling the piece of paper stacked with confusing words and loads of zeroes that is of greatest concern for improving the welfare and liberties of professional footballers.

After tension grew among players in the wake of a number of incidents involving clubs enforcing agreed conditions on their employees, a snap summit was held at the RLPA offices to determine a watertight strategy for any future situations that require a footballer to weasel their way out of personal responsibility.

At the core of these disputes has been the humble written agreement, a commonplace arrangement in professional sports that distressed officials now cite as a “restriction on an honest working gentleman’s ability to make a rather large crust wherever and however they so please.”

It is also widely believed among players that the compelling power of the contract had caused clubs to truly feel they have become bigger than the game, with one unnamed five-eighth stating “I’m sick of being a silent serf to the oppressive dictatorship that the board has become.

“Besides, I can barely write. That’s why my signature just looks like a smiley face on a set of boobies. So why should that really mean anything at the bottom of a piece of paper?”

In light of these concerns, the RLPA will be tabling a submission for proposed reform using specific examples from the recent imbroglios involving Blake Ferguson, Anthony Milford and Ben Barba and their respective ongoing battles with their paymasters and their ruthlessly slick legal eagles.

Another factor that will drive this lobby is the growing belief that players are slave-driven in the modern game under the advent of relentless coaching methods, where working up to 20-25 hours per week for minimal recompense has become the norm.

RLPA representatives also believe there is no flexibility from club hierarchies for unforseen issues such as personal and family matters, untenable working relationships with teammates or a lack of adequate nightclubs in the districts surrounding the football club.

As one distressed official put it: “Football squads are being treated like a chain gang, where players are worked tirelessly in unfashionable training garb and under the duress of nonsensical facial hair, with no avenue for recourse if a request to the board for another sponsor’s convertible is knocked back.

“All while the CEOs just stand by laughing as their bottom lines grow fat.”

“Young and impressionable footballers are being taken advantage of by clued-up fat cats from the top of town. These kids commit to a club, end up flogging themselves on a training track for days on end, sticking their heads between the steaming bums of teammates, trying to make out what Wayne Bennett is actually saying as he mumbles a game plan. It’s not an easy life.”

“However, they do it for the love of the game and their paymasters because they are good and decent men.

“But when it comes to making important decisions like being near their children, supporting family or listening to Anthony Mundine, they are given no say whatsoever.”

Although there seems to be a high level of panic from the players, the RLPA is anxious for the wider community to know that it is not seeking major upheaval, just for an amendment to what they currently perceive as the “one way street” for the club’s interests to be “transferred in to a fair and workable two way street, with one side of the street blocked, that being their side.”

Unconfirmed reports say that the recommendations in the RLPA submission include a request to have legally-binding contracts be renamed as “that piece of paper that Khoder Nasser made me scribble on with crayon,” and that the contents held within are deemed void upon any unforseen or unplanned change in a player’s personal circumstances or tastes.

The report containing the recommendations will be handed over to David Smith in a ceremony hosted by Gorden Tallis and Benji Marshall, a gathering that will double as the opening of the new RLPA-funded playing arena named the Compassionate Ground.

Dane was named best and fairest in the 2004 Bathurst mixed indoor cricket competition. With nothing in the game left to achieve, he immediately retired at his peak to a reclusive life ensconced in the velvet of organised contests. Catch the man here: @eld2_0

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