Calls to overturn scrapped policy

Bret Harris | April 04, 2008 Calls to overturn scrapped policy | The Australian

PLAYERS' association chief executive Tony Dempsey will meet the ARU next week in an attempt to persuade the national governing body to reconsider its decision to scrap the early release policy.

The ARU, under previous chief executive Gary Flowers, reached an agreement with the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) in 2004 which recognised players' long service when they requested an early release from their contract to play overseas.

If a player had five years' continuous service and had played 30 Tests or 60 games for his state, he would be eligible for consideration for an early release.

But the John O'Neill-led ARU has now scrapped the policy and will consider requests on a discretionary basis.

The reason for the policy reversal is to deter players from heading overseas by making it harder for them to secure contracts.

There are fears of a mass exodus because of the widening gap in financial resources between the northern and southern hemisphere.

Rich European clubs, particularly in England and France, can offer players much more than they can earn in Australia.

In the past, the majority of players who headed overseas were reaching the end of their careers, but now Wallabies who are in their prime such as Rocky Elsom are considering going overseas.

The standard ARU contract expires on December 31, but European teams demand players be on board in August-September.

Dempsey will discuss the issue with ARU chief negotiator Rob Smith and chief of staff Peter Friend next week.

"I'll have a dialogue with the ARU next week and hopefully some sensible, middle ground can be found," Dempsey said. "There is still some sand in the gear box.

"Players have entered contracts with the ARU in recent years upon that policy, which brought clarity to a cloudy issue.

"To pull the rug from under the players' feet is manifestly unfair and is not something I'd expect from the current ARU administration.

"Hopefully, we can come up with a solution that is best for Australian rugby.

"The new ARU administration has been involved in another sport for a few years and may not be aware of the history of the early release policy."

Dempsey was prepared to reach a compromise with the ARU on the issue.

If players sought an early release, they could commit to remaining in Australia until after the Tri-Nations in August-September and then move to their foreign club.

But the players would remain available to play for the Wallabies if they were required during the team's end-of-season tour to Europe.