On his final day with the RPA, CEO Damian Hopley MBE has written up some final thoughts...
Today marks my final day at The Rugby Players Association almost 24 years to the day that I founded the Organisation back in 1998 when professional rugby was in its infancy.
As I look back and reflect on what we have achieved, I take enormous pride in the significant progress we have made to ensure that players today receive world leading security around welfare, insurance, personal development and mental and physical wellbeing.
As some of you may know, I founded the RPA from my front room in 1998 on the back of several knee operations after my career ending injury. I received no support from the RFU whatsoever despite being an England international which was appalling, so I was inspired and determined that my plight should neither be in vain nor repeated for professional players going forward. For the first two years we had no income apart from member subscriptions of £100 per annum, and we worked for free because we were so passionate about the cause of Player Welfare. However, we did have the most important currency in the game – The Players Voice and that is still true of all Player Associations around the world today.
Every single Players Association receives money from the sport within which they operate, be that TV monies, Revenue Share or a direct payment from the sport as happens in many rugby territories, but our independence and value to our members has never been more important than it is today.
Those first few years and beyond were both exciting and terrifying in equal measure as we battled and worked with the authorities on several fronts in delivering the following for our membership:
- We agreed a long term funding and investment plan that delivered millions of pounds of investment into our welfare programmes;
- We negotiated a Standard Contract that gave the players security including 3 months guaranteed payment in the case of career ending injury (it is now improved to 10.5 months full pay);
- We represented and won hundreds of legal and employment claims for our members;
- We created a successful insurance plan for the RPA members, which has a 70%+ success record to this day;
- We established several new and lucrative revenue streams across corporate partners, commercial events, generating millions of pounds of incremental revenue to invest into player programmes;
- We introduced Education Grants to support and foster our members off field development and these are being re-introduced this season after a two-year hiatus due to COVID
- We became the exclusive negotiator for the British & Irish Lions Player Contracts, a role we proudly continue to this day;
- We took over the exclusive commercial management of the England Team after their outstanding RWC win in 2003 to make the England players the best paid in the world on a game by game basis for match fees, Image rights and tournament bonuses;
- We started working on the Development Programme with the Red Roses in 2014 ahead of their RWC success and then became the exclusive commercial representatives of the Red Roses in 2021, working with the RFU to make improvements to the women’s game
- We established our official charity, Restart, and have raised millions of pounds to support worthy player causes;
- We were a founding member of International Rugby Players, which I was privileged to Chair from 2007 to 2017 before Patrick Manley took over as our first Independent Chair with Omar Hassanein and his team doing a brilliant job on behalf of supporting players worldwide.
Not a bad return from a standing start and a vision and collective passion to work hard and support our members.
I have been fortunate to get round a number of clubs in my final weeks with my colleagues to catch up with many players and outline the exciting vision for the RPA going forward, and I will close out my time at the RPA on Monday at my beloved Wasps, the club that gave me my start on this extraordinary journey in rugby; as a fan watching my eldest brother, Phil; as a player with some of the greats of my time and then as an administrator supporting, representing and shaping the game in England. It is fitting that I will leave the game where I started, at the best club in the world, bar none.
It has been my absolute privilege to lead the RPA in representing, supporting and developing thousands of players as well as work with so many talented colleagues, stakeholders and business partners during that time. I’m not, as many have suggested, retiring (I wish), but I will take some time out, reflect on the outstanding success of the RPA and then see where the next opportunities lie. My book will definitely be a good read.
So as I approach my final hours in this incredible role, I want to say an enormous thank you to you all for your support over the years. I owe rugby an awful lot despite the heartbreak of a career ending injury at 27 and the 13 operations that followed, but I wouldn’t change what happened to me for anything. My abiding hope is that future generations of players can also look back with unabashed pride at their legacy of leaving our game in a better place than where they found it.
Good luck to you all for the season ahead, especially in both the Women’s and Men’s forthcoming RWC’s. I look forward to seeing great things from the RPA, IRP and our beloved game in the years to come.