RFU says amateurs' day is over

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The Independent Online
Any doubts that rugby is rushing headlong towards a post-World Cup professional era were swiftly dispelled yesterday by the language coming from that traditional bastion of amateurism, the Rugby Football Union headquarters at Twickenham.

Tony Hallett, who succeeds Dudley Wood as the RFU's secretary next week, openly admitted that the central tenet of the game - the very word amateur - was quite simply redundant. "The word does not stack up any more at the top and the International Board, when it meets in August, will be relevant in providing regulations in what is effectively a professional code," he said.

Hallett followed this admission by detailing his vision of the lot of the future England international player. He would be contracted either to a sponsor company or to the RFU and would earn pounds 25,000 a year for his rugby, but would not, Hallett hoped, give up the day job.

"We are in the process of completing negotiations with a sponsor and the details will be announced just before the start of the new season. Players will promote rugby and the sponsor's product. We are considering the best way to work in partnership with the England squad and how to wrap them up in a package which still allows them to pursue a vocation while compensating them.

"Whether the contract is with the Rugby Union or with a third party - meaning a separate company - has still to be worked out. There are tax and legal implications, but we envisage a position where both players and single 'employers' have commitments to each other."

Whether all this is good enough for Will Carling, who implied at his book launch on Wednesday night that the players were going to set their own pace on the way to professionalism, remains to be seen. "Ever since the World Cup, the captains and other influential players have been in contact with each other," he said. "We are on the same wavelength and although we know the International Board intends to debate the amateurism issue, we are ahead of them. Their decisions might be irrelevant."

In South Africa, the players are trying to prove him right. The World Cup-winning captain, Francois Pienaar, and 12 of his provincial team-mates have been dropped from the Transvaal team in what is sounding increasingly like a good old-fashioned industrial dispute for better pay and conditions.

"We are asking for a R2,000 [pounds 345] a month increase and we are asking for a restructure of payment to give us security," Pienaar said before a meeting of the South African Rugby Football Union yesterday.

Louis Luyt, the president of SARFU, countered by claiming the players were asking for a total of R548,00 (pounds 94,695) a year for each of the 26- strong squad - an overall bill of R14.2m (pounds 2.45m).

Johan Prinsloo, the chief executive of the Transvaal union, said he thought the players were already doing pretty well anyway. "We are called the chequebook province. The reason for that is that we looked after our players so well. A player's monthly package, for his expenses, could be up to R14,000 (pounds 2,419)."

n ITV yesterday ended speculation that its outgoing head of sport, Trevor East, would take the Rugby World Cup to BSkyB by announcing that it had secured exclusive rights to the 1999 tournament in Wales. East has joined BSkyB as executive director of sport with responsibility for developing its sporting portfolio in the Northern hemisphere.

n David Campese, the Australian wing, has decided not to retire after 91 caps, and instead intends to pursue his century, thus making himself available for selection for the two-Test Bledisloe Cup series against Australia later this month.

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