The Rugby Players’ Association (The RPA) has always sought to work collaboratively with Premiership Rugby to address player welfare concerns. It therefore caused significant concern and disappointment to our members to learn of Premiership Rugby’s plans to extend the domestic season via a press release in late March. This proposal had not previously been discussed with the RPA.
Despite this disappointment, Premiership Rugby were invited to present their proposals in more detail to the RPA Players’ Board on Wednesday 10th May. However, after due consideration, the Board unanimously rejected these proposals in their current form.
The Premiership season is already longer than comparable contact sports, including Super League, NFL and AFL. Extending an already arduous season from nine months to ten has serious implications for players, given the potential increase to the game, training and psychological loads they face. The physical and mental strain placed on participants of professional contact sport cannot be underestimated.
We believe the reduction of the domestic off-season from three to two months will have a seriously detrimental effect on player welfare unless substantial guaranteed safeguards are introduced. The RPA fought hard for the inclusion of a mandatory 5-week off-season break in the standard Premiership contract, but players also require an extensive pre-season period to sufficiently prepare themselves for the physical demands of the season. A significant off-season period is essential to provide physical and, crucially, mental respite for our members.
Perhaps most worryingly is the incredible strain these proposals would place on International players. If the Premiership season retains its current start date, the addition of a July tour schedule will lead to an 11-month season for these players. This cannot be avoided unless these players start their domestic season later, which brings into question the need for the season extension.
All players fully recognise the fundamental role Premiership Clubs and Premiership Rugby have played in investing in and creating a thriving domestic league in England since the onset of professional game over 20 years ago. Whilst we also acknowledge that the reduction of overlaps between international and domestic rugby is desirable, we do not believe the current proposals are viable.
It is critical that those playing the game have a full say in how it is run and we look forward to working together with all the game’s stakeholders on this issue to ensure that Rugby Union continues to flourish in England.