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Phllip Browne Addresses The Player Dispute.

Phllip Browne Addresses The Player Dispute.

Phillip Browne on the current stand-off between IRFU and the Players Association over match fees and bonuses which has raised the possibility of a player boycott of the tour to South Africa.

The current stand-off between IRFU and the Players Association over match fees and bonuses has raised the possibility of a player boycott of the tour to South Africa. IRFU Chief Executive Phillip Browne addressed the issues surrounding the impasse on RTE Radio yestrerday morning and began with the question that fees have stayed the same since 1998 and the players are due an increase.

I think that’s only part of the picture.” he said. “The reality is that over the past three years the salary of the players has increased over 50% and the last set of negotiations which started last August saw a 20% increase in the salaries of the top players in the country.

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“The top 26 players at the moment are earning about 4 million basic. In terms of match fees, certainly in the season just gone out, players would have earned in the region of 50,000 in match related payment.

One of the things I want to make absolutely clear is that the players are not poorly paid. The second thing is that we have benchmarked the match related payments against those in Scotland and Wales, two countries who are our immediate neighbours, similar in size, similar in turnover to the IRFU. Comparisons in that instance show our players are being treated very fairly indeed.

Given that the crux of the current impasse is about match fees and bonuses, Browne went on to explain how the system works at present. The match fee as reported in the Irish Times last week is just under 1300 and that’s a fee that is paid to a player – on top of his basic salary – in recognition of his selection for the national team.

“Then there’s a win bonus of just under 4,000 paid if the team beat a Six Nations country or any of the three southern hemisphere sides (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia). Now that compares better than Scotland and Wales and very similarly to all the other countries.

The difficulty for us (IRFU) is that we have a pot of money that is being sliced up in a certain fashion, with the agreement of the players, to give them a basic salary which effectively allows them to stay and play their rugby here in Ireland.

“There is no more money in that pot and the difficulty is that if we are to re-negotiate how that pot is to be split the implication for Irish rugby is significant.

The implications of the demand that has been put to us by the Players Association would suggest an additional half million (euro) in expenditure. That’s money the Union simply doesn’t have. Our deficit, following a meeting with our auditors just last night, will be in excess of 6 million.

With a deficit of 6million, the question was put to the Chief Executive; Can the IRFU afford to keep going?
I’m glad you asked that question, Browne replied., because that’s the very point, and I don’t think maybe people quite realise the difficulty that’s out there.

“What we’re trying to do is sustain a professional game and we’ve had our difficulties in doing that over the past 12/18 months. An example is Connacht marching on Lansdowne Road. And I appreciate fully the sentiments that were expressed then.

But the difficulty is that we’ve also got to keep together a schools game and a club game and the vast majority of players in this country are actually recreational players.

The top end of the game is professional and that’s vital to us as well. But we must try and maintain a balance. If we lose the balance both financially and in terms of the game itself, really we’re going to be in big trouble. So what we have to try and do is find an accommodation that retains that balance.

The professional game in this country costs about 12.5million in salaries alone. In terms of total cost, the professional game costs 24 million. That, set against a total revenue of about 35 million.

It’s an extremely difficult situation. We can’t compare ourselves with England and France where I’m sure there are higher salaries and higher wages paid. What we’ve done is we’ve pushed the boat out and we have paid basic retainers to our top players to encourage them to stay here in Ireland and we’ve done long-term contracts with a lot of them. And that has cost us a huge amount of money.

But if we are to apply similar increases of 50% and more to match fees and bonuses then the whole professional game starts to look unsustainable. And we are simply not going to take more money away from the club game. We can’t do that.

And if the players hold their line and don’t go to South Africa.?
I think we’ll have to face that issue if it arises. We’ve briefed the South Africans very fully. They have been through similar turmoil themselves as indeed have other Unions.

The reality is we’re not in the business of soccer. There isn’t the same sort of money that there is in soccer. We have some very well paid players. We’re delighted with the success that they’ve had. They’ve been well rewarded for that success. And they deserve all the success they get for the hard work that they put in. But at the end of the day we don’t have 500, 000, 600,000, 700,000 more to pay.

In fact what we’re trying to do is find more money to lower our deficit.”

And how can the situation be resolved?
Until there’s recognition that there’s a serious issue here for Irish rugby. This has nothing to do with the IRFU. This has to do with Irish rugby and the sustainability of what we’re trying to achieve here. There has to be recognition of that and at the moment there doesn’t seem to be.

We have to meet with the Players Association and obviously put our point of view. I’m sure they’ll very forcibly put their point of view and I fully respect that. That meeting I think will take place on Wednesday.