Are players now just commodities?
By Matt Price
Rugby is a professional sport, as we all know but how much now is money starting to define the game? Rugby as a professional sport is also a business so as well as getting more people to watch and enjoy the sport it must also gain revenue. Concerns for this now money driven sport is that it is potentially putting players at risk and treating them more like a commodity.
Promotion from the Championship to the Aviva Premiership is a big step, to try and contend against established top flight teams is a very big task. Perform this task well and a run in the top flight may well continue. Exeter Chiefs have done a great job since joining the Premiership in the 2010/11 season, qualifying for the Heinekan cup and two season running and winning the LV=Cup last season.
Teams approach the promotion in very different manners and last seasons play off finalists certainly took different routes, both ways ultimately are very disrespectful to the batch of players who are doing the hard work and grafting to get their respective club into the premiership.
Bristol opted to buy big before securing the promotion, thus showing the players who still had to play the play offs that even if they do get to the Premiership their own position in the club looks incredibly insecure. In one day Bristol announced 10 signings throughout the day in a huge celebration of what the future had in store for the club, but could it encourage players to perform better to show their worth and show they are willing to fight for their squad position for the next campaign or discourage?
Unfortunately for Bristol their promotion bid was unsuccessful and they still remain in the Championship, leaving them with a group of players who signed up for top flight rugby but suddenly left a league below. As the players signed prior to promotion they did have clauses in their contracts enabling them to go on loan next season but must return if Bristol again reach the play offs. Is this fair…..again no! The players remaining are basically being told you can help earn us play off status but then we’ll bring out the big boys and your work here is done.
London Welsh chose a different way, but possibly a little more disrespectful in the long run. Welsh managed to pip Bristol in the promotion battle and making a return to the Premiership, then the recruitment began. It is understandable to bolster a team when you make the jump from leagues yet the Exiles have managed to go beyond the normal strengthening that others do.
London Welsh to date have acquired 23 players to start their Premiership campaign which basically equates to a whole match day squad, and moved out an impressive 16 (at my last count).
Bringing in a few big names to possible strengthen and improve a squad is in this day and age the norm, but for me this goes well beyond this and highlights now that players truly are just commodities and no longer the core of the club. Piri Weepu and Olly Barkley are two very good acquisitions to the club and will help Welsh to battle to remain in the top flight, but surely keeping the core of the squad around them will help the development of the team as a whole?
Playing as a unit is far more beneficial than playing as individuals, as the age old adage goes “there is no I in team”, communication and understanding are a huge part of rugby, will they have this come the start of the season? A new squad trying to bond over a short pre-season period may lead to a bumpy start for London Welsh, and for the players who remain may not be happy with the direction the club has gone in their recruitment. I for one would be slightly miffed and aggrieved if I and my colleagues had helped gain the club promotion only to see the majority swept to one side deeming them not good enough to carry on in the Premiership.
The fact that players are becoming less and less important to some clubs is becoming much more apparent, some clubs do still uphold the tradition but a lot now are happy to cut a player lose if they no longer serve a purpose. Shontayne Hape recently highlighted, in his interview on his concussion, exactly how brutal it can be in French rugby.
“There was constant pressure from the coaches. Most coaches don’t care about what happens later on in your life. It is about the here and now. Everyone wants success. They just think ‘if we pay you this you are going to do this’.
Players are just pieces of meat. When the meat gets too old and past its use-by date, the club just buys some more. You get meat that’s bruised or damaged, the club goes and buys some more.”
This was a huge eye opener for many just to hear from a player what it is like to have that worry constantly on your shoulders and can lead to serious damage to your health. Playing while injured with fear of letting people know how serious it is in fear that the club may not want to wait for your recovery and replace you is a stark realisation what these guys put themselves through. French rugby is rapidly becoming big business and totally money driven, players go there to earn the Euros, winning is essential when these clubs are throwing the money around. In short the business now controls the sport rather than the sport controlling the business.
Week in week out players put their bodies on the line, showing a huge commitment to the club let’s hope the clubs remember this and show the players the same respect and commitment.
This is a great piece written in the summer on a personal blog account and it’s a great way to introduce a new writer to the site. It’s still relevant now as Bristol Rugby are on the verge of signing Gavin Henson from Bath, so how will this move turn out? Will Bristol be returning to the Premiership anytime soon?
Picture found on Google from the BBC site