Frustrated players accuse Rugby Australia of 'information vacuum' on game's future

Super Rugby
by Emma Greenwood

The Rugby Union Players' Association has accused Rugby Australia of locking it out of discussions on the future of the game, saying there has been a "vacuum of information" from the governing body.

RUPA chief executive Justin Harrison said Australia's professional players recognised the need for an overhaul given the coronavirus crisis that has brought a halt to Super Rugby and other sports around the world. But they wanted a voice in the process.

“Rugby Australia and the Rugby Union Players Association should be partners in this process to navigate their way together through this crisis,” Harrison said.

“RUPA members and the game’s stakeholders are frustrated. There is a vacuum of information.


"I think it's more uncertainty that frustration, it's uncertainty on any likely scenarios and any likely way forward because there just hasn't been an opportunity to engage in full and frank, transparent discussions with all of the stakeholders of the rugby ecosystem.

“While our colleagues in the other major football codes across Australia have been meeting with their governing bodies for weeks RA has refused to share any information about the future financial direction of the game.

“Are the players about to be presented with a fait accompli – the future of the game decided without any consultation?”

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The RUPA executive hopes to meet with Rugby Australia on Tuesday after a number of cancelled dates.

Rugby Australia was initially unaware of RUPA's statement on Sunday evening and while the governing body did not respond immediately, it's understood a press conference will be held on Monday following the organisation's AGM, where its financial position and road forward is likely to become clearer.

“The players are standing by ready to participate and engage and get an understanding of what the future looks like with a pragmatic and whole of game approach,” Harrison said.

"We have an obligation to explore every possibility to us to develop a timeline of survival for the sport of rugby and the sporting community in a broader capacity."

The RUPA board includes some of the heaviest hitters and sharpest minds in the sport, including president and Waratahs hooker Damien Fitzpatrick, women's sevens captain Shannon Parry, former men's sevens captain Lewis Holland, Wallaby Scott Sio, Reds forward and double degree holder Angus Scott-Young, former players Dean Mumm and Adam Wallace-Harrison, Sally Fielke and chair Campbell Fisher. 

But Harrison said the group was not just out to protect the interests of professional players.

"When we talk about players, it's not professional players protecting an elite salary, it's players talking about the U6 Clovelly Eagles player up to the Jabiru Bushratz up in the Northern Territory, across to club football, down through universities all around Australia," he told RUGBY.com.au

"This is about trying to develop a map and a timeline around everyone's role inside a very, very uncertain model.

"We see pain all around us. We see the unemployment rate in Australia going from single-digit percentages to double-digits and the low teens inside a month and we are under no illusion that every part of our societal norm is under pressure and will take an extremely long time to return to anything that we knew before.

"But the players are acutely aware of wanting to build something as positive and as constructive and encompassing as possible.

"This is not about protecting elite salaries. This is about people being afforded an opportunity to have some sort of normalcy in their life and then perhaps be able to provide some stability to some other areas of their lives in their interactions as professional sportsmen and women."

RUPA president Fitzpatrick believes his fellow players can be part of a solution to the conundrum facing Rugby Australia, who face a massive revenue shortage given their inability to meet their broadcast obligations with Super Rugby currently suspended and the July Tests in doubt.

“There is acknowledgement by the players that unprecedented action is needed," Fitzpatrick said.

“This is a critical time and the players have sought the opportunity to constructively contribute to a solution. To date RA has refused to provide us that opportunity."

Both Harrison and Fitzpatrick say their members recognise the need for an overhaul.

“There has never been a more critical time to collaborate and find a whole of game solution," Fitzpatrick said.

Harrison said the hope was the path forward could be designed in a "hand in glove scenario" with Rugby Australia.

"Which means that we have a chance of trying to get some semblance of control in what is a very fast-moving, unpredictable landscape all around us," he said.