Exclusive: Contracts are killing the rights of NRL footballers

Dane Eldridge Columnist

By Dane Eldridge, Dane Eldridge is a Roar Expert

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    Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan were cleared by the NSWRL. (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 Eldridge
    Dane Eldridge

    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 on Twitter @eld2_0.

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    The Crowd Says (18)

    • August 21st 2013 @ 6:57am
      oikee said | August 21st 2013 @ 6:57am | ! Report

      The way the clubs are run, players have every right to want out. Look, it is hard to blame the players in this code when we can all see the code has been run like a shambolic mess.
      Sonny Bill was a warning sign, the code did nothing, Isarel and Karmichael Hunt left, the code did nothing, Israel tried to come back, the code did nothing, now they are squealing like stuffed pigs because players have had enough and kids are sick of being treated like kids. hehe
      Bring in one year contracts,(for under 23 years of age ryan) as i mentioned yesterday, and stop trying to lock kids into long contracts or dictating where they should play their footy. It is not working, it wont ever work because free trade is the way of the future.
      Once we eccept thjis, the easier we can all live with ourselves. change is hard to except, time to move forward as jules would have us bel;ieve.

      • August 21st 2013 @ 7:29am
        Jay C said | August 21st 2013 @ 7:29am | ! Report

        It’s not hard to blame the players oikee. If you sign a contract you should see it out. Two players I feel for are Barba and Milford, who don’t want to leave their clubs, but want to be closer to family. and not just closer to family but Milfords dad is ill and I can tell you if my family needed me theres not a signature or a piece of paper around that would keep me away. Barba is trying to be a part of his young families which is also much more important than football. Blake Ferguson is just a spoilt pratt who wants his bikkies. Contracts seem to favour only the players. If a club needs to break a contract it has to pay it out in full. If a player wants to break it they just act like idiots. Good article though, I didn’t read the humour bit first and it had me going for a while.

        • August 21st 2013 @ 10:07am
          huggo said | August 21st 2013 @ 10:07am | ! Report

          Humour alarms started at ‘one unnamed five-eighth stating “I’m sick of being a silent serf to the oppressive dictatorship that the board has become.’ lol… sure they did!

      • August 21st 2013 @ 7:47am
        ken oldman said | August 21st 2013 @ 7:47am | ! Report

        OMG….here he is again…does not this man have anything else to do !

      • Roar Rookie

        August 21st 2013 @ 9:00am
        josh said | August 21st 2013 @ 9:00am | ! Report

        I’m not eccepting it. I’ve had enough escape goats this season. Dead-set grubs all of them.

      • Roar Guru

        August 21st 2013 @ 11:15pm
        peeeko said | August 21st 2013 @ 11:15pm | ! Report

        yeah, one year contracts will work. the kids will want the safety and surety of multi year contracts. one year contracts are great for clubs, that can cut people after 1 year if they dont like them and kids have no security. remember far more clubs sign players for too long than the other way around

    • August 21st 2013 @ 7:22am
      Johnno said | August 21st 2013 @ 7:22am | ! Report

      No one forces these players to sign contracts. They have to take some responsibility. In saying that, the modern world requires flexibility, and a transfer window may be needed.

    • Roar Guru

      August 21st 2013 @ 9:05am
      Charlie Drayton said | August 21st 2013 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      Now that Furner is out of the picture it will be easy for Ferguson to get out of his contract and Barba is getting closer to Brisbane on what they call “compassionate grounds.”

    • August 21st 2013 @ 9:50am
      Matt said | August 21st 2013 @ 9:50am | ! Report

      I think “exchanges” should be brought in, that way if you want to move club, your club is getting something they are happy with out of it (otherwise no deal).

      Fine, we’ll have Ben Barba. You can have Corey Norman.

      • August 21st 2013 @ 3:03pm
        Robz said | August 21st 2013 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

        The only problem with the player swap situation is what if the new club has no players that want to move to the other club – bit hard to force them to go there (that’s primarily why the proposed player draft was dispensed when players challenged it years ago).

        Milford is the one I feel most sorry for, his situation is that he actually as a clause in his contract allowing a release in this exact situation yet now the Raiders are trying to renege on it – even though they agreed to put the clause in his contract in the first place, all the while knowing that his father was already sick and likely to get worse. But I do also feel for the Raiders given they’ve let go a number of players over the years for behaviour issues only to have those players turn up and star for other clubs. But Milford should not be punished for the sins of Dugan, Carney etc

        • August 21st 2013 @ 4:52pm
          Matt said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:52pm | ! Report

          Milford is one of a few though who have “genuine” problems outside of their control, or ability to forsee.

          Raiders, god, imagine if all their players stayed and played properly! Other clubs are desperate to gain good players, Canberra have had half a dozen test-quality players in their ranks the past few years, and just can’t get them to stay.

        • August 21st 2013 @ 4:52pm
          Matt said | August 21st 2013 @ 4:52pm | ! Report

          Milford is one of a few though who have “genuine” problems outside of their control, or ability to forsee.

          Raiders, god, imagine if all their players stayed and played properly! Other clubs are desperate to gain good players, Canberra have had half a dozen test-quality players in their ranks the past few years, and just can’t get them to stay.

    • August 21st 2013 @ 10:31am
      GW said | August 21st 2013 @ 10:31am | ! Report

      Oikee unfortunately missed the IRONY in the article. Dane25 your post is really funny but the points you’ve surrounded in humour are so very valid. I would like these players to present their requests for compassion to a 12 person jury consisting of military personnel currently serving in Afghanistan, some Adelaide miners working in Broome, some Sydney cops working in Dubbo or Broken Hill and some Islander kids that earn $2 a day in their villages at home.

      How many of these players would be too embarrassed to even take their cases to such a jury? These guys are told how good they are from a very early age. They would be told ego boosting stuff till the cows come home. In a normal job, if you work exceptionally hard for a very long time, you may never hear a word of encouragement from your boss, while a good-looking new starter who does the photocopying properly gets gushed over. It is real life, unfortunately. Managers naturally want their players to earn more so they can earn more too. Some of them are willing to encourage behaviour that a decent human being would not even consider – think of SBW leaving Canterbury.

    • August 21st 2013 @ 10:39am
      huggo said | August 21st 2013 @ 10:39am | ! Report

      Perhaps the clubs should consider writing contracts which include exclusivity. Many businesses write clauses into their employment contracts for people in important, strategic or information sensitive roles stating along the lines of ‘upon leaving employment with this company the employee will proclude themslves from working in a similiar industry or for a direct competitor’. This is usually for a specified period like 2 years or so. Could be altered a little just to cover players requsting separation from a club.

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