EXCLUSIVE: Strike now and you will bring down the game… Wales rugby chief executive fires grave warning to players ahead of crucial week amid threats of Six Nations clash with England not going ahead
- Wales players could go on strike for the England game amid funding disputes
- The players were warned about the grave impact it could have on finances
- Nigel Walker delivered the message in a meeting at the team’s training base
Welsh rugby boss Nigel Walker has warned militant players that the sport ‘could go under’ if they strike for next week’s game against England.
The interim WRU CEO is understood to have delivered the message in a meeting at the team’s training base in the Vale of Glamorgan.
The governing body would lose around £9million in revenue if the game is called off, with catastrophic impacts on the sport’s finances.
The fixture is also scheduled for prime-time broadcast on BBC and a further financial penalty would be likely if the game does not go ahead.
Disputes over future funding have left the game in crisis, with the four regions unable to offer new deals to players who are coming out of contract.
The current Wales team are preparing for their next Six Nations clash against England but strikes could put the game in doubt
The uncertainty has pushed the players to breaking point, setting a deadline of Wednesday to reach an agreement and avoid the doomsday scenario.
The three main demands made from Wales players to Walker are:
- Scrap the 60-cap rule that restricts players from playing domestic rugby outside of Wales and also featuring at international level unless they have that number of Test appearances
- Remove the fixed-variable element from contracts, which account for 20 per cent of salaries under the proposed system
- Give players a seat at the table of Professional Rugby Board meetings.
The Mail on Sunday also understands there are concerns about the risk of losing sponsors, who contribute millions of pounds to prop up regional rugby.
A series of crisis meetings will be held over the coming days and Wales coach Warren Gatland last night urged the power brokers to hurry up.
‘I don’t know why you can’t just lock yourselves in a room for 48 or 72 hours and come out with a solution,’ said Gatland. ‘Everyone’s got to compromise, there’s always compromise somewhere. You’ve got successful business people, you’ve got intelligent people, well find a solution and do it quickly. I don’t know why things have gone on for so long but we’re seeing the result of it now because the negotiations have been ongoing for too long.
‘I come from a country when you’re in a bit of a crisis, you get everyone in a room and you sort it out within 24 hours. The strength of New Zealand Rugby has always been the ability to change and change incredibly quickly. Probably the hamstring of Welsh rugby is that change is like a slow train trying to go somewhere. To effect change in Wales is time consuming. As an organisation we need to be a lot better at change.’
Around 90 Wales-based players are understood to be coming out of contract at the end of the season, resulting in mortgage difficulties and the need for secondary employment.
Some of the proposed salaries start at a base level of £30,000 and Gatland acknowledged that pay cheques will continue to take a hit off the back of losses from the pandemic.
‘There has been a reset in the way the game was going,’ said Gatland. ‘Before Covid there was going to be a lot more investment in the game from outside sources to potentially growing the game.
Nigel Walker is the current acting chief executive of Welsh Rugby Union and is on the Professional Rugby board
Warren Gatland urged all the concerned parties to hurry up and change what needed to be done
‘There was a lot of money in Japan and out in France, I felt that at the time before Covid that we were going to see players on regular salaries of a million plus. Now due to the Covid situation has curtailed all that sort of stuff and there has been a reset on the investment in the game. Going forward the expectation of the players’ salaries is probably going to be 30% less than they are currently on.’
The Welsh squad have banned Netflix cameras from key meetings throughout the week to help force the issue. Only a tiny fraction of revenue from the behind-the-scenes documentary is channelled into the players’ image rights but the documentary has become a key component in their stand-off.
Gatland expects a resolution to be reached so the game goes ahead, backing the players’ demands to scrap the 60-cap selection rule that deters them from signing contracts outside of Wales.
‘It was fit for purpose when it was introduced,’ said Gatland. ‘Ironically it got called Gatland’s law. My argument at the time was look at Australia where it’s 30 games and I thought that was potentially appropriate. The regions wanted 70 and we ended up with 60, but I’m not sure it’s fit for purpose at the moment. There’s an opportunity under the current situation to say let’s potentially get rid of it. That needs to be negotiated for post[World Cup if it’s beneficial going forward. Get in a room and discuss it, but not for months and months.’
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