‘The primary issue is getting not just rugby but society back on track’

RUGBY PLAYERS IRELAND chief Simon Keogh has praised Irish players for the way they have reacted to their pay deferrals during the Covid-19 outbreak.
‘The primary issue is getting not just rugby but society back on track’

RUGBY PLAYERS IRELAND chief Simon Keogh has praised Irish players for the way they have reacted to their pay deferrals during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The IRFU and its four provinces last week reached an agreement with RPI, the representative body for professional players on the island of Ireland, to defer pay by between 15 and 50% for those earning above €25,000 per year, a decision that also applies to all non-playing staff.

Players have been stood down by their provinces for eight weeks until May 18 but many businesses were forced to close during the pandemic and RPI chief executive Keogh has been heartened by the understanding for the bigger picture shown by his members.

“I have to say I’m very proud of the way the players have reacted to it,” Keogh told the Irish Examiner.

“There’s so much empathy out there for everyone else. Speak to the players around taking a pay deferral and they are saying in response to that, ‘I have so many people I know or am reading about who are losing their jobs so if we’re able to defer payment and assist the organisation then so be it because it’s not the worst thing that can happen relative to what’s happening to other people’.

“I have to say that the players were brilliant in that regard.

“So I’m hugely proud of how they’ve reacted and also the manner in which they’ve done it and the ease in which they’ve done it. It is difficult.

“A lot of people have budgeted their years and their lives based on what was due to come in and then to adjust themselves but they are very empathetic towards other people’s situations so they see their own adjustments as small in relation to others and what’s going on around the country and the world.”

The lack of certainty over an endpoint to the outbreak is hampering all attempts to put a structure on a way to close out the 2019-20 season in the Guinness PRO14 and Heineken Champions Cup but with stakeholders focusing on playing through July and August, Keogh remains hopeful a solution can be found for that and a sensible approach to the 20-21 campaign.

“There is hope that the season will get back on track in the summertime but we’re operating from day to day at the moment. We have to be a little bit more agile on how we’re thinking about this.

“You know, things change and we have to adjust the mindset of how we’re thinking because players are used to having their four-to-five week rest periods in June and July and this eight-week stand-down is longer than that summertime period.

“So it’s going to happen a bit earlier and they’re going to be playing rugby at a different stage.

“This season was due to be a very long season for a lot of players who played at the World Cup and now it’s being cut short so potentially next season will feel like the longest season and we’ll be swapping one for the other.

Our player management system in Ireland is very good so hopefully we’ll be able to manage the rest between this and next season as well, spread out the play.

“You see the numbers that played across Leinster’s season, over 50 players used in the three-quarters of the season played so far and hopefully that continues and we are able to spread the workload across our membership so there’s enough rest time for everyone in what could be a longer season next year.

“And hopefully, if all goes to plan we’re able to play some aspect of the 19-20 season in the summer of 2020.”

Among the many variables that are posing challenges to the game’s administrators is the registration status of players set to become out of contract on June 30 when most deals tend to expire.

Yet Keogh believes the priority must remain to get back to some sort of normality in everyday life.

“It’s a very good question because it is one of the variables,” he said of player registrations.

“For instance, you have potentially Iain Madigan coming in (to Ulster from Bristol Bears) at the end of the 19-20 season and will he be available and there are all these things to be teased out.

“But the priority is making sure that we have a 19-20 season and all those other bits and pieces after will fall into place and will have to be discussed and arranged. There are definitely some nuances there that we are going to have to look at.

“You’d say ‘hang on a sec, there’s a player there in the 19-20 season who was due to come in for the 20-21 season. It’s a bit confusing but I would almost see that as a secondary issue.

“The primary issue is getting not just rugby but society back on track and making sure everybody is fit and well and healthy. That’s the primary concern. Rugby is just a sport at the end of the day.

It is a livelihood for people but at the end of the day it’s there for the entertainment of others and if we can get society right and make sure everyone is fit and healthy then rugby will fall into place after that.

In the meantime, Keogh is encouraging players to use their downtime effectively once their daily fitness requirements have been fulfilled.

“No-one’s on holiday. Like all of us, they’re at home and players have an opportunity to use this period to upskill themselves from an off-field perspective.

“We have a player development manager in each of the provinces and essentially they act as a career development person would in a school or university, helping players to look beyond rugby and prepare themselves as best as possible. This time is an opportunity to focus on those areas.

“Guys aren’t able to go on their sun loungers, they’re on their couch and if they switch off Netflix there’s an opportunity to do other things, assess their life and see where they want to go with it and upskill themselves in different areas.”

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