Former Preston Grasshoppers player and ex-director of rugby at Lightfoot Green writes every Friday for the Evening Post
There was an interesting circular issued to all clubs by the RFU over the summer.
It concerned RFU Regulation 7.3 and provided advice to clubs about making payments to players.
The key focus of the release was about defining “Material Benefits”.
This has been a grey area to some clubs and the circular was designed to provide clarity.
In the release the RFU described material benefits as “money, consideration, gifts or any other benefits whatsoever contracted, promised or given to a person or at his direction.”
The statement also clearly made the case for clubs and players to observe “effective registration.”
In other words, if in receipt of material benefits then a playing contract should exist between the player and the club.
The circular also clearly stated that third parties acting on behalf of clubs were deemed to be acting as if part of that club and are not independent of the regulations.
It was a matter-of-fact statement, no longer than a paragraph but it left those reading it clear as to the message.
It is something that has been long overdue.
To some clubs and their officials, the information contained within and the tone of the message will have come as a surprise.
It never fails to amaze me how little knowledge some club officials have about the rules and regulations they are required to operate under.
For some that lack of understanding comes down to plain naivety.
They are the “honest volunteers” helping their club with the never ending admin that comes nowadays with running rugby clubs at all levels.
As the saying goes, “One volunteer is worth more than ten pressed men”.
This might be true but another saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” might also be more apt. For instance, in the last few months we have seen clubs get badly caught out through the well-intentioned but hopelessly misguided efforts of their own administrators.
One Midlands club when appealing against a level transfer – a geographical issue where once there are too many clubs in one area, one club is asked to move league to the region next door – stated that their reason for opposing the enforced move was that their players would expect to be paid more for having to spend more time travelling away.
When a quick look at the RFU contract database showed that they had registered all of their players as amateurs – and hence could not be paid to play – things quickly became serious.
Points deductions, relegations, fines and the suspension of administrators can all be sanctions where impropriety is found to be at work.
For those whose conduct is more wilful than naive, the statement should have brought the uncomfortable realisation that the tactics they have employed to deliberately circumnavigate the regulations are clearly under the microscope.
It used to really get my dander up when certain clubs officials used to trot out the smug self-congratulatory tripe that their club was totally amateur and that the club had never paid its players.
All this whilst attracting players from all over the globe who of course just happened to stumble into their clubhouse by chance.
Yes, the club might not have been the centre from which the benefits were being paid but it was apparent that their players weren’t just playing for a couple of free beers on a Saturday evening.
No, these are the clubs where the third party does the paying and makes a mockery of the game at the same time.
For it is these clubs that are able to attract players with promises of riches far and above the budget of the those playing by the rules.
It was – and is – cheating. Plain and simple.
What has been kept quiet for too long is how players have too often absolved themselves from their responsibilities.
I think there is still a problem in this area in that players misguidedly seem to think that receiving these benefits is no big deal and certainly something they do not have to declare.
It has almost become an idea that it is their rugby money and things such as paying tax are not applicable.
How wrong they are. To me those players deserve no sympathy if they get caught out.
Proper clubs do things by the book and as a result they look after their players accordingly.
That should form an important part of a player’s thinking when choosing where to play their rugby.
I understand that the RFU discipline department are now becoming more active in their hunt to root out those clubs who deliberately flout the laws with intelligence-led investigations part of their process.
Whilst that will cause little consternation locally, there will be some clubs and players with lots to ponder as a result.
My advice would be not to ponder for too long.