Players in World Cup row

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The Independent Online

Damian Hopley, the chief executive of the English Professional Players' Association, yesterday said that England's leading players will not sign the 2003 World Cup participation agreement in its current form.

Hopley's concerns have been echoed by his colleagues in other major rugby nations such as New Zealand, France and South Africa. Areas worrying International Rugby Players' Association members are wide-ranging. The IRPA claim that Rugby World Cup chiefs are seeking "unfettered rights" to "commercially exploit" player images.

They have also criticised the role of the RWC disputes committee, alleging an unlimited ability to fine players, restrictions placed on players using their images in connection with the tournament and RWC's ability to "unilaterally vary" player agreement terms after they have been signed.

"Having taken legal advice, I can confirm that the English players are not able to sign the agreement in its current form," Hopley said. "Until the appropriate bodies enter into dialogue with the players, this issue will remain unresolved."

The IRPA say they have reviewed proposed variations to the RWC 2003 tournament manual and participation agreement, stating the changes are "unacceptable."

"All members of IRPA continue to have concerns regarding the terms of the agreement, despite the variations proposed by Rugby World Cup Limited," Tony Dempsey, the IRPA chairman, said.

The chief executive of the French players' association, Cedric Boudarel, added: "Our players are very unhappy with the terms of the participation agreement, and require significant changes."

New Zealand players' association head, Rob Nichol, stated: "Rugby World Cup holds the key to the resolution of the players' concerns. They need to get more involved and ensure, through consultation with the players and participating unions, that the concerns are resolved."

The tournament kicks off in Sydney on 10 October when the defending world champions, Australia, face Argentina.