The game has developed massively since turning professional in 1995/6 but unfortunately we also now have, like in any business, the good the bad and the just plain ugly that also exist in the sport.
Business is about making money so let’s call a spade a spade for one moment. With the success of any professional sportsmen or woman comes some extra’s to keep the ball rolling.
This means that from one player a few people, franchises and unions must benefit from all the money that goes around. For this to benefit the players, clubs and unions we will need more than just a selves-centered 007 agent, you need people who care for the well-being of the players, clubs and unions.
The problem many players in today’s game do not realised when they dream of being a professional rugby player is that you only have so many spots to fill and that is where we find that players are taken advantage of and sometimes given false hope.
Let’s take South African as an example.
There are about 1 000 000 registered players today and if you look at South African structures we have 14 unions which are not all fully professional. In these 14 unions you have about 40 players that are offered contracts if you are fortunate.
So you have 560 players that will have a contract in South Africa. Then if you are realistic only the six Super Rugby franchises really offer a player the opportunity to be a full professional player earning enough money to make it their only profession.
That brings down the total of players to only 240 players of which about 20 will get a Springbok contract, to bolster their earning power.
Now this is where the problem comes in for players – the rest of the players wanting to make a name for themselves will go for anything agents throw at them just to be seen as in today’s game even overseas countries scout for players all over the world. Agents have begun to sweet talk players and some have even gone as far as lie to players.
This is where the integrity of some agents in the game come into question. Instead of playing a role as guides and mentors who offer sound advice and straight talk, there are agents who selfish and unwise. Agents who will end careers instead of allowing them to flourish.
We saw this year were Isireli Temo commited suicide at the age of 30. What is known is that Temo had suffered with injuries and was yet to play a match for Tarbes this season.
Those who had been in contact with him say that he was becoming increasingly despondent.
Unfortunately, Temo’s suicide is not an isolated case among rugby players from Fiji, Samoa and Tonga who often fall prey to a distressing combination of cultural pressure and ruthless exploitation. Players who will fel they can support their families by earning big money in a foreign environment.
In Fiji the minimum wage is around £1.50 an hour and that is a pathway for agents and clubs to employed players who can earn as much as £22,000 for representing England , something we saw when Nathan Hughes opened up about playing for England instead of Fiji.
Yet that is unrepresentative of the experience for the majority of the estimated 200 Pacific Island players in Europe, based mainly in France.
Most of the Pacific Island players end up having to support their entire family and sometimes even the whole village. That puts a huge burden on the shoulders of the player trying to make it big in Europe or Japan.
There was also a few suicides of island players in Australian rugby league due to the immense pressure.
This is where certain agents and clubs capitalise on players seeking a better life or player wanting to play at the highest level even if it means that they have to do so for an adopted country.
With Fiji winning gold at this year’s Olympics will see even more pressure on players from these agents. The same goes for players in countries like South Africa where the rand is far less from what they can earn in Europe and Japan.
Agents are gunning for these players from the age of sixteen these days which makes the exodus of players one of the biggest threats for power house nations like South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
Agents knows how players are struggling in these countries and especially in the Pacific Islands. In the Islands it is the worst as it has been reported that they can buys 10 Fijian players for one All Black player.
Most of these players cannot say no when these numbers are thrown in front of them being away out of their current situation and the dream to be playing at the highest level one day.
These players normally sign straight away without knowing what they agree to in the first place. These players look at exchange rate and do not realise that they have to pay taxes, housing and food which all amounts and they end up with £171 at the end of the day.
These agents will then most of time take 50% of the client’s wages and when things do go wrong they become the “Untouchables”. When things gets tough and the players try to phone the agent they do not even pick up.
This week we again saw on the other side of the coin Springbok Johan Goosen in the news as he announced that he will retire from rugby at the age of 24.
It has left his French club Racing fuming after a new contract was signed last year with Goosen. Racing reserves the right for a judicial follow-up with Goosen and those (Agent) that advises him but LNR rules prohibit a player who does what Goosen has done from playing within France for another club for 18 months.
The news broke on Sport24 that Goosen could join Gloucester and has already been in discussion with Mohed Altrad who is the owner of Montpellier and is set to become a majority shareholder for Gloucester.
This kind of dealing leaves a bitter taste in our sport and it is not surprising that the same agent as many other controversial dealings with South African players is the agent of Goosen as well.
That the game of rugby and the Governing body, World Rugby has much to learn about professional sport and how to control it, is clear to see.
The question is just will someone start doing something to protect the players who is looking more and more like a bunch of sheep getting left out for the wolves to take out. Player need to be willing to select the right agents and advisors. People who have a reputable track record while also keeping an acceptable reputation in an industry full of questionable agents.
Sources: The Telegraph, Sport24, SARugbyMag and Planet Rugby