Warburton: Strike threat remains, despite 'verbal' promises
REACTION: Former Wales captain Sam Warburton has thrown his weight behind a possible players’ strike that could threaten next week’s Six Nations clash against England in Cardiff.
The Welsh Rugby Union and the regions have yet to agree, in writing, to a new long-term financial agreement – sparking fears that players whose current deals expire at the end of the season will leave the Welsh game.
Recruitment is on hold, with next season’s playing budgets not yet finalised at Wales’ four professional teams – Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets.
A Daily Mail report this week said players were considering industrial action amid the contract crisis.
Warburton said it was no surprise that Wales – scheduled to face England a week on Saturday in Cardiff – were bottom of the Six Nations table after losses to Ireland and Scotland in their opening two games.
“The players clearly do not feel valued by the Welsh Rugby Union and that has affected their performances on the field, and I can see why,” Warburton wrote in an online column for The Times.
* (Continue below …)
#⃣NEWS UPDATE: The @WelshRugbyUnion and the country’s professional players on #Wednesday moved closer to a deal that could avert a threatening player strike#Rugby 🏉#RugbyUnion🌍
— rugby365.com (@rugby365com) February 15, 2023
The 34-year-old, also a two-time British and Irish Lions captain, who retired through injury in 2022, added: “I know from speaking to some of them this week that this issue has been really bugging the Wales players, and the feeling is so strong that the threat to strike is very real.
“They feel like they are, for want of a better expression, being shafted. So, I totally support the players and their threat to strike should some sensible agreement not be reached. If I was still playing, I would not sign these new contracts.”
Wales interim Chief Executive Nigel Walker said Wednesday he had met with senior Wales players to “further clarify the position”.
While a verbal agreement exists, the lack of a formal written deal has long been a source of anxiety, with former Wales international Walker insisting the WRU had “absolute empathy” with the players.
The 59-year-old, while promising to act as “swiftly as possible”, added: “We know we are not in an ideal situation, but it is incredibly important for the whole game in Wales for us to get this next step right.”
Malcolm Wall, the Chairman of the national Professional Rugby Board, which oversees contract negotiations, said Welsh players and clubs had to face financial reality, for all Wales internationals in Cardiff often produce sell-out crowds of over 74,000.
“The cold facts are that the Wales and clubs have been paying salaries that their businesses cannot afford, so the new agreement establishes a new framework for contract negotiations,” Wall said.
It will be ’30 percent less’
He added that under the new framework, the average salary of a Welsh professional player would be £100,000 (US$120,000, €113,000), with the PRB confident the proposed salary packages were “in line with the UK market”.
But former flank Warburton, capped 74 times by Wales, said: “It needs to be stressed that Wales’ players are not overpaid.
“The contracts they have are in line with the other countries.
“They know that, under the new proposals, on average they will probably be on 30 percent less than their English, Irish and Scottish counterparts.”
Reports of a strike threat come at a time of turmoil for Welsh rugby both on and off the field.
Last month, then-Wales Chief Executive Steve Phillips resigned after a BBC documentary made allegations of sexism at the governing body.