England's clubs versus agents row
SPOTLIGHT: Just when you think we can concentrate on the positive action on the pitch, scandal and acrimony off the pitch always seem to rear their head in rugby.
The latest row between Premiership clubs and agents needs resolving as soon as possible for the good of the game.
From conversations around laws and concussion lawsuits to salary cap scandals and salary cuts, the sport hasn’t covered itself in glory in recent years and hopefully mediation next week can avoid the wrangling between agents and clubs in the English top-flight being added to that list.
The clubs are claiming that there is a conflict of interest in the current system where they pay agents’ fees, with the players having 50 percent of them put on their P11D as a benefit in kind, and are proposing that there should be a prohibition on the payment of agents’ fees by clubs.
The agents say clubs are using an HMRC ruling in football, which isn’t particularly relevant as transfer fees are barely ever involved in rugby, to sideline them and that it will lead to a well-regulated industry becoming like the wild west.
In addition to it all feeling a lot less above board, rugby players aren’t notorious for their admin skills and there could be a rise in examples of agents not being paid and cases going to the small claims court.
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You can see the thinking behind both arguments and the reality, as so often is the case, is somewhere in the middle so both parties are going to have to give some ground when they come to the table.
Perhaps you can see why some club owners would be frustrated by paying agents significant fees for simply extending a player’s contract, as opposed to a deal between two clubs, but that doesn’t mean agents don’t play a valuable role.
Plus, if players are going to have to start paying all of their agents’ fees instead of just half, then the clubs will surely have to pay players more to account for this.
Clubs have been hit hard by the pandemic and this would wipe somewhere in the region of £6 million off their books collectively but you could certainly make the case that they aren’t going about it in the right manner.
They also need to be careful not to anger their players, many of whom have excellent relationships with their agents. The clubs do effectively own the players for the duration of their contract but that is only temporary and it’s certainly not in their interests to rub them up the wrong way by treating them too much like a commodity.
It isn’t the first time clubs have tried to cut agents out either, with Saracens reportedly preferring to deal directly with players a long time ago, and there is a reason why they exist.
My agent, Duncan Sandlant, was the one person in my career who I’d have trusted my life with and finding someone in rugby who you can trust implicitly is not an easy task at all.
I knew he’d always have my best interests at heart but not all agents are so trustworthy and I also experienced another agent trying to push me towards a club because he owed them a favour when it didn’t suit me at all.
So not all agents are equal and they certainly aren’t all on the same page when it comes to this dispute either.
The Association of Rugby Agents chairman Mark Spoors is on the opposite side to the clubs and it’s fair to say he doesn’t enjoy the universal support and respect of all of his fellow agents.
There’s no doubt that both sides are going to have to make concessions and meet in the middle so hopefully common sense will prevail to avoid this issue dragging on for even longer.
In the meantime, it is the players who are pawns in all this and the Premiership is suffering as well as them. No business is being done at the moment and perhaps Duane Vermeulen would have been plying his trade in England rather than Northern Ireland had this row not been going on.
If all is resolved in mediation next week, people will forget about this very quickly but if it’s allowed to drag on, Premiership clubs will miss out on more of the world’s top stars and players will begin to leave the league in greater numbers. Here’s hoping both parties see the need for a speedy resolution.
By Andy Goode, RugbyPass