RUPA and player welfare – it’s time to rise up and represent

Will Knight Columnist

By Will Knight, Will Knight is a Roar Expert

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    With the mental health of players at the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels recently brought into question, where is RUPA in the Super Rugby scrap for survival?

    It’s now been over two months since the ARU announced that either the Force or Rebels would be cut from next year’s restructured competition.

    Ever since the axe has hovered over the two clubs, the ARU has copped plenty of criticism for the delay in making the decision – a call that was originally due to be delivered within 48-72 hours in April.

    In a recent article, former Wallabies and Force hooker Brendan Cannon wrote a column expressing how “appalled” he felt by the treatment of the ARU towards the players facing the chop.

    Cannon bemoaned the ARU’s lack of additional funding and resources for psychological support to those affected by the “trauma” as “inexcusable and astounding”.

    He relayed a conversation with Force skipper Matt Hodgson, who said “the darkness hasn’t allowed us any escape”.

    There were a number of reasons why the hold-up was so agonising for players and their families: those with children were dreading the moment they may have to tell them they’re leaving their friends behind to move to new cities and schools. Their partners can’t tell employers if they’ll be at work beyond the next two months. Some are looking after elderly parents who cannot be moved and some players couldn’t take educational courses.

    I would’ve thought they are the type of dilemmas a lot of people in many different industries across a lot of different countries encounter every day. But certainly for a professional sportsperson, the uncertainty over whether they are offered a contract, for how long, in which country and city, is part and parcel of their chosen career.

    It’s a pursuit with a limited lifespan, but given it’s also handsomely remunerated, the precariousness of the profession is usually tolerated.

    Melbourne’s assistant coach Morgan Turinui last month labelled the ARU’s handling of the situation as “an absolute disgrace”.

    “The ARU are putting them in a situation that puts them under extreme stress. It’s not acceptable,” he said.

    Turinui’s spray included the lament that Rebels players couldn’t renew leases because of the wait for the ARU to make their cull call.


    Nonetheless, let’s take Turinui at face value – and take into account Hodgson’s gloomy outlook – and accept that the Rebels and Force players are suffering significant psychological strain as they wait to learn their fate.

    So where is the Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) in all of this?

    They could add significant weight in the attempt to bring about a quick resolution to the stand-off, thus ensuring the darkness is lifted and the players are able to move on.

    How? By encouraging the two Super Rugby clubs in the firing line to drop their legal action. It’s the biggest impediment to the ARU making their decision. The governing body, already straining financially, can ill-afford to rack up a massive legal bill.

    Rugby Western Australia has taken out an injunction against the ARU, insisting there’s an “alliance agreement” that states they should remain in Super Rugby until the end of the broadcast deal in 2020.

    Andrew Cox and the Imperium Group, which owns the Rebels, have made it known they are prepared to launch a legal challenge to recoup the damages caused if the ARU axes them.

    Amanaki Mafi of the Rebels

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    The ARU are right in their stance that the current five-team Australian model is unsustainable both financially and in terms of on-field performance.

    ARU chairman Cameron Clyne noted that cutting one team was necessary to stem a $28 million Super Rugby cost blowout over the last four years and ensure the survival of the sport in Australia.

    How can RUPA support a Super Rugby structure in which all five teams have required financial assistance in recent years and results, especially from the two at-risk franchises, have been pretty dismal?

    It’s not sustainable.

    But more immediately, if one of RUPA’s key objectives is to look out for the welfare of its professional players in Australia, then why aren’t they demanding the Force and Rebels keep away from the courts?

    Drawn-out, bitter and expensive legal battles will only damage the sport further. Both image-wise and financially. The money lost to barristers and lawyers putting on an eight-person shove in the court room is money that could be directed to growing the game in a much more meaningful way.

    Five teams in Australia is unsustainable. It’s time to move on. Yes, RUPA’s membership will drop, but overall rugby union will be in a much stronger position – with fewer professional players – to foster and grow.

    If RUPA can’t put the mental well-being of about 60 of its members at the top of their list, then its priorities are wrong.

    It’s easy for RUPA to be reactionary and take pot-shots at the ARU when they try to push on with a justifiable restructure. But why support the litigious clubs while players are suffering psychologically? RUPA need to take a stance. Help to end the uncertainty and the players who are cut will have a chance to look elsewhere. Perhaps there’s still a window to land a contract in Europe or Japan. Maybe some players will want to return to their home states.

    Judging by comments made by RUPA CEO Ross Xenos back in April – soon after the Force announced their legal action – he wasn’t entirely convinced about the direction taken.

    “When teams engage in legal action, that places the time frames of the ARU process into another sphere of uncertainty… so long as they (the Force) are prepared to mount a challenge to any prospective decision, that casts the entire process into another shadow just when we thought that there was greater transparency and resolution not too far away.”

    If RUPA is truly representative of the professional players and sincerely concerned about the welfare of its players, then it’s time they encourage the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels to drop any legal action against the ARU.

    If Hodgson and Turinui have accurately articulated the fragile state of their players’ mindsets due to the uncertainty, then what can be more important?

    Will Knight
    Will Knight

    An AAP writer for more than a decade, Will Knight does his best to make sense of all things cricket, rugby union and rugby league, all while trying to have a laugh along the way. You can find him on Twitter @WKnightrider.

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    The Crowd Says (108)

    • Roar Pro

      June 16th 2017 @ 8:36am
      robel said | June 16th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      Let’s just roll over and take it up the …
      Of course there are people who have jobs that are under threat at some time. It happens throughout everyones working lives.
      What is unacceptable is the manner in which the ARU has gone about this. their “let’s get them, oh, too hard, lets get them, oh, they won’t sell” and on it goes.
      The ARU could help themselves by taking a look at the money they pour into e.g. Wallaby top-ups for a couple of clubs and ask themselves if it is getting value. That extra couple of millions is the difference between solvency and the lose of a super club in Aust.
      Instead they want to lay waste to the easiest growth region for RU in this country.
      The ARU are inept, they are short sighted, they are not doing anything remotely helpful in promoting the game in Aust by this decision to renege on a agreement they signed less than a year ago to backstab the Force.
      However common the issue of employee welfare during times of redundancy, it is no excuse for the ARU to behave in this way.

      • Columnist

        June 16th 2017 @ 9:22am
        Will Knight said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        Good points. But how do you address the “extreme stress” being felt by players – they’re Morgan Turinui’s words not mine?!? Do you ignore their pleas that the current delay is hurting the players psychologically?!

        • Roar Pro

          June 16th 2017 @ 10:33am
          robel said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:33am | ! Report

          I don’t think WARU or VRU dropping their legal action is how to solve the issue. The ARU is the one taking the unreasonable action and expecting a state union to accept oblivion.
          The ARU should pull its head in and find an accwptable solution to thier finance problem. The WARU and the Force have solved thiers.

          • Roar Guru

            June 16th 2017 @ 12:21pm
            PeterK said | June 16th 2017 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

            kicking a team out will not improve anything

            • June 16th 2017 @ 4:00pm
              Lesley Kelly said | June 16th 2017 @ 4:00pm | ! Report

              No I agree it won’t the, whole state of rugby here including the Wallabies continuing losses against the ABs needs addressing and it has nothing to do with depth of players and everything to do with retention of good players who are consistently going overseas.Maybe depth is a problem but only because the ARU can’t or is not capable of keeping players here.Most team sports or even any sport try to grow their game ,attract more supporters but what does the ARU want to do ,shrink it so eventually it fades on a national level ,The Wallabies have less players to choose from and it becomes irrelevant here.Shame on them.

            • June 16th 2017 @ 9:02pm
              Reverse Wheel said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:02pm | ! Report

              Yes it will. Significantly.

        • Roar Pro

          June 16th 2017 @ 3:07pm
          kickedmyheight said | June 16th 2017 @ 3:07pm | ! Report

          RUPAs role in assisting the players mental health should be via offering direct assistance where they can and then secondly by putting pressure on the ARU to bring this to a conclusion as quickly as possible. Not by asking the clubs to roll over.

          I will make no comment on whether or not RUPA are fulfilling these requirements.

          The clubs have been open and public with their positions and their intended course of action. The silence and inaction of the ARU is a prime element in the current uncertainty.

      • Roar Guru

        June 16th 2017 @ 12:21pm
        PeterK said | June 16th 2017 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

        the top ups are a non issue.

        The ARU has an agreement on revenue sharing of player payments, the players have to receive x%, sure the top ups may be split differently or spread more but it makes zero difference to the financial situon they are in.

        On the last negotiation the ARU pushed down the revenue share but not before the ARU almost lead a strike resisting the decrease despite the parlous financial situation.

    • Roar Guru

      June 16th 2017 @ 8:44am
      sheek said | June 16th 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      The handling by the ARU of this situation is one of the most disgraceful things I’ve ever seen associated with the sport.

      I am firmly in the camp that no team should be culled.

      There are other ways to move forward that haven’t been seriously explored.

      Nor do I agree both WA & Victoria should drop their legal action. Why should they?

      We’ve arrived at this situation because of poor & hasty decisions by ARU & SANZAAR. They are the culprits, let them stew in their own morass.

      I have no sympathy for ARU or SANZAAR. They deserve every portent hex coming their way.

      • Columnist

        June 16th 2017 @ 9:28am
        Will Knight said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

        Don’t deny it’s been woeful Sheek. But what do you say about the players’ fragile mindset as it all drags on?!?! RUPA can get on the front foot here if they are truly representing the players and their welfare. What can be more important than the players’ mental wellbeing?!? Turinui, Hodgson, Cannon etc are the ones that brought this issue into it. What has RUPA got to say about mental health relating to this delay?!?

        • Roar Guru

          June 16th 2017 @ 10:11am
          sheek said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:11am | ! Report


          The fact that players are in limbo & struggling financially, mentally & emotionally is precisely why this saga is disgraceful. In fact, I would call it obscene.

          There’s seems to be a new wave of managers & bosses saying, “we’re okay, we’re full of money, stuff the employees, we don’t care about them”.

          For nearly two decades Australia has become a country where everyone is trying to screw each other, sometimes out of necessity, often out of pure greed.

          How else did Sydney become one of the most expensive cities in the world to live?

          I’ve offered a cure previously.

          Preserve the five provinces in a national comp. Preserve their history, tradition, heritage & tribalism. They’re too good to be trashed by SANZAAR.

          Neither NZ or SA have their historical, traditional provinces in super rugby.

          Give SANZAAR four willy-nilly named teams in outlandish colours & with American nicknames. It works for BBL!

          • June 16th 2017 @ 11:21am
            puff said | June 16th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

            Sheek agree, Whichever way the ARU would like to candy coat this continued debacle, it is just short of criminal. Therefore as an unwavering supporter of the code I would truly like to believe that other administrative type folk will fall on their sword as well, before this pitiful display of inapt management is over. I do concur I’m a Rebels enthusiast and their year to date leaves much to be desire but I struggle to understand how any coaching team can psychologically or spiritually excite a team who are struggling in a dark place. With this said, the Force are also treading water, therefore it is beyond me how any administration that call themselves professional with all their advisers, legal support and so called sports admin experience could almost destroy the sport in two states in one easy lesson. The sad issue is, I haven’t even discussed the human element and the havoc and carnage that is now affecting families, futures and the pressure the rugby community is experiencing generally. Talk about an exercise in futility, this must be a new approach on how to expand the code in Australia. Unfortunately this act of cannibalism will now not save the ARU’s desperately needed funds. Regardless of how this dilemma players out, it would not be unreasonable to envisage both clubs looking to break the bank. Dropping a team was never the smart option?

          • June 16th 2017 @ 1:10pm
            RahRah said | June 16th 2017 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

            Ive always thought this the best solution if change is really required. Now, where is TWAS to shoot us down?

          • June 17th 2017 @ 12:28am
            Scottd said | June 17th 2017 @ 12:28am | ! Report

            I’m almost at the point where I agree with you mate

        • June 16th 2017 @ 10:41am
          Bakkies said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

          RUPA can’t do much until the CBA expires in December

        • June 17th 2017 @ 12:26am
          Scottd said | June 17th 2017 @ 12:26am | ! Report

          RUPA is also required to take some responsibility for this debacle
          Their appointee on the ARU board voted to remove a team and then RUPA made a public statement that the ARU should keep 5 teams. Go figure?
          WARU and VRU have every right to fight for procedural and contractual fairness for their union and supporters and their employees (which includes their players).
          RUPA needs to accept some responsibility for this cock up as well as the ARU and the other unions that voted for a cut including the VRU. The only rep on the ARU that voted against the cut was from WA.
          It’s enough to put a man off his beer

    • June 16th 2017 @ 9:07am
      Cato said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      Sorry Will your suggestion is crazy.
      This is akin to “blaming the victim” with your proposal that the Force and Rebels drop Legal Action.
      Neither team have done anything wrong, but you suggest that they back down from what is seen as a Legal right to challenge what almost everyone on he Planet sees as disgraceful action by the ARU.
      I agree RUPA definitely need to muscle up and get more involved, but please do not lose sight of where the blame lies.

      • Columnist

        June 16th 2017 @ 9:30am
        Will Knight said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        As mentioned above Cato – this article isn’t about the blame game. It’s about MENTAL HEALTH – an extremely important issue for the young men at the Force and Rebels. What would you do if you were CEO of RUPA?! Ignore it?!? The players raised it as an issue.

        • Roar Guru

          June 16th 2017 @ 12:24pm
          PeterK said | June 16th 2017 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

          rupa could organise appointments with the appropriate mental health experts, dropping the suits all that will do is ensure a side gets dropped.

          Perhaps a side won’t get dropped by maintaining the legal action.

        • June 16th 2017 @ 2:15pm
          Perthstayer said | June 16th 2017 @ 2:15pm | ! Report


        • June 16th 2017 @ 2:27pm
          Perthstayer said | June 16th 2017 @ 2:27pm | ! Report


          I think you have the players best interests at heart but it was a mistake to give your opinion on what the right and wrong decision should be when it comes to a team being killed off. This stopped your article being the opinion of a neutral, which in turn has blurred people’s reading on what you wrote.

          • Columnist

            June 16th 2017 @ 6:53pm
            Will Knight said | June 16th 2017 @ 6:53pm | ! Report

            It’s an opinion piece. I’m not representing the Rebels, Force, ARU, RUPA, Waratahs, anyone. I don’t have to be neutral. I can support whatever and whoever.

            • June 16th 2017 @ 7:01pm
              Perthstayer said | June 16th 2017 @ 7:01pm | ! Report

              I was referring to not being a neutral on the issue of whether a team is killed off or not.

              Being of the opinion one team should be cut as well as saying the teams should drop their legal actions makes it an easy link to assume you are pushing an agenda.

              But I do not think that you are. What I do think though is that some of the responses to your article have been influenced by the connection, which is why I said originally it may have been best to remain neutral on the cutting issue.

      • June 16th 2017 @ 4:04pm
        Lesley Kelly said | June 16th 2017 @ 4:04pm | ! Report

        I agree why should they drop their legal action ,if anyone breaks a contract for whatever reason you don’t just roll over and take it.

    • June 16th 2017 @ 9:10am
      Paul D said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:10am | ! Report

      Isn’t the RUPA part of the group which forced the special meeting to occur? Aren’t they petitioning in support of keeping their members in a Job?

      You ask where is the RUPA, I’d say they are exactly where they need to be. Alongside their members.

      • Roar Rookie

        June 16th 2017 @ 9:16am
        Paul D said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        Further to this, I don’t recall reading your article about when Fairfax were sacking a bunch of journalists that they should end the strike action and just roll over. Perhaps I just missed it.

        • Columnist

          June 16th 2017 @ 9:38am
          Will Knight said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:38am | ! Report

          Well I didn’t see any reports specifically relating to mental wellbeing. Again – Turinui, Hodgson, Cannon etc have brought this into play. So I’ve just offered a way that this mental crisis can be resolved. Otherwise can RUPA sincerely vouch that they represent the welfare of Australia’s professional rugby players? Tell me – what’s more important than mental health?! You may say a job – I’m only suggesting mental welfare may sit above all that.

          • June 16th 2017 @ 2:31pm
            Perthstayer said | June 16th 2017 @ 2:31pm | ! Report


            If both teams win their legal action then both teams stay.

      • Columnist

        June 16th 2017 @ 9:33am
        Will Knight said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:33am | ! Report

        I suppose it comes down to priorities Paul D. What’s more important than mental health. Rightly a big focus these days. RUPA can play a part in expediting a decision. Drop legal action. Or what about they start paying for extra counsellors and psychologists?! Easy to be reactionary when you’re RUPA and snipe ARU. Why can’t they show leadership?!

        • Roar Rookie

          June 16th 2017 @ 9:41am
          Paul D said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

          How does unemployment improve metal health? Or having to uproot your family and move state or country. How does giving up your dream of a professional rugby career or being forced into retirement early help? We all know the difficulties with adjusting to life post a professional sporting career.

          These concerns would be paramount for the RUPA I would expect.

    • Columnist

      June 16th 2017 @ 9:19am
      Will Knight said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      It seems the point has been missed here.

      Of course the Force and Rebels have a right to take legal action.

      Apportioning blame is largely a debate that’s done and dusted. Yes the ARU and SANZAAR got it wrong.

      This article is about what’s to be done about the fragile mental state of the Force and Rebels, as passed on by Matt Hodgson, Morgan Turinui and others. It’s not me making that assumption.

      If the players’ welfare – their psychological wellbeing – is being severely affected, then the issue needs to be brought to a head. How can that be expedited? Well the ARU are baulking mainly due to the legal action and threats. So here’s a solution for RUPA is they’re serious about their membership’s mental health – ask the clubs to drop their legal action!

      • June 16th 2017 @ 9:53am
        northerner said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

        I’m not sure that having your club abandon its fight to stay alive is necessarily going to improve your players’ mental health. If RUPA and the clubs simply surrender, surely that’s tantamount to abandoning the players, and that would, I suggest, be much more devastating than the current uncertainty.

      • Roar Guru

        June 16th 2017 @ 12:25pm
        Rabbitz said | June 16th 2017 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

        Frankly, if the players are so susceptible to mental issues triggered by insecure employment, they are in the wrong occupation.

        The entertainment industry is premised on short term work and sudden upheavals of employment status. Been there, done that for 30 something years.

        That the ARU has exacerbated this is not the fault of the Unions, RUPA or the players. It rests solely on the shoulders of the ARU and their failure to execute this business process correctly or even fairly.

        If player welfare is the issue, then I suggest that players and their representatives start to take action against the ARU. The solution is not for the Unions to fold in their actions.

    • June 16th 2017 @ 9:20am
      In Brief said | June 16th 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      To me this symptomatic of the failure of leadership across all sectors of Australian society. While our economy continues to grow and housing prices soar in many locations, socially and democratically we have reached the nadir of our nations short existence. So if you think cutting a sporting team hurts, spare a thought for the many communities losing their very existence as we speak.

      • Roar Guru

        June 16th 2017 @ 10:17am
        sheek said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        In Brief – well said.

        Egalitarianism & a fair go are two Australian qualities that appear to be disappearing.

        We’re becoming a country of self-obsessed, insincere, selfish bullsh*t artists.

        • Roar Guru

          June 16th 2017 @ 12:26pm
          PeterK said | June 16th 2017 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

          you mean we are becoming Americans?

          • Roar Guru

            June 16th 2017 @ 4:02pm
            sheek said | June 16th 2017 @ 4:02pm | ! Report

            PK – Like!

      • Roar Guru

        June 16th 2017 @ 10:19am
        sheek said | June 16th 2017 @ 10:19am | ! Report

        In Brief,

        Of course my other comment will be wiped in due course.

        So again, well said.

        Egalitarianism & a fair go are two Australian qualities that appear to be disappearing.

        • Columnist

          June 16th 2017 @ 4:16pm
          Geoff Parkes said | June 16th 2017 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

          Hey Sheek,

          Hope the body is holding up well mate?

          Just on another pet topic… did you see ‘The Deal’ liftout in today’s Australian? Specifically the article trying to justify the fast tracking of two year old racing as part of a breeding model?

          The bloke’s entitled to make a living however he wants, but to be painting him as some kind of genius entrepreneur, for something that is helping kill racing, is a bit rich. Preaching to the converted I know, but worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

          • Roar Guru

            June 16th 2017 @ 7:35pm
            sheek said | June 16th 2017 @ 7:35pm | ! Report

            Ha, ha, thanks Geoff for the heads up!

            Obviously you’ve heard me rant that while I accept the Golden Slipper as Australia’s premier 2yo race, I in no way agree with it being in the top four most valuable races on the Australian calendar.

            I was brought up in a different time. Back in the mid-late 60s, my entry point into thoroughbred racing, there weren’t overflowing champions around, but there was a nice balance between staying races & sprints, between wfa & handicaps.

            Every aspect of racing was more or less valued & appreciated & good horses were raced over many years providing horse lovers with genuine pleasure watching them race other good horses plenty of times.

            Less so now.

            Hopefully, my local newsagent will have a copy left over tomorrow morning. The Australian newspaper is my personal favourite, despite all the Murdoch haters, the journalism is usually very good.

            But my wife loves the trashy Daily Telegraph, while I also buy the SMH during the week for a counter viewpoint.

            I usually always buy the Weekend Australian though.

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