England’s Ellis Genge says it is time to “shake up the rugby scene” after confirming plans to set up a new union, designed to provide elite players with improved commercial and legal advice.
He feels players were “poorly advised” over measures taken by clubs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Leicester prop, 25, says the new organisation would be independently funded to avoid conflicts of interest.
“We wouldn’t have to answer to a governing body,” he said.
Genge outlined his vision on the latest episode of the Rugby Union Weekly podcast, but said he is not trying to replace the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA), which was set up in 1998 and has represented England’s top-flight players since then.
However, Genge feels the RPA is compromised because of the funding it receives from the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Premiership Rugby (PRL), and as a result it “can’t bite the hand that feeds”.
He added: “We are not making a new RPA. I think they do really good stuff with welfare in rugby and they look after people really well.
“But I do feel that people were poorly advised [over the pay cuts]. People were advised from the off to sign the contracts without reading them, almost.
“Commercially, I didn’t think everyone was being represented very well.
“So I am trying to put together a players’ union. It is not to replace the RPA or to combat the RFU. Honestly, it is nothing of the sort.
“It is just so people can get really good advice from trusted professionals in those specific fields: [for example] around commercial and legal [issues].”
RPA liaison officer Christian Day told the Rugby Union Weekly earlier this month that the varying approaches of the Premiership clubs around the pay cuts had led to an “absolute mess” of a situation, and called for “more dialogue” from the start.
Meanwhile, RPA chief executive Damian Hopley told the Daily Telegraph that the union has given “as much advice, information and direction to the players as possible” during the process, but said all parties would admit it could have been handled differently.
‘Players tell me they have been stitched up’
Genge, along with Tigers team-mate Greg Bateman, sought legal help after being asked to take a 25% pay cut by the Leicester hierarchy, before being placed on furlough.
While their actions initially led to a stand-off with those at the top of the club, Genge says the issue is now resolved but adds that seeking external advice was the right decision given the legal complexities of the furlough situation.
“No-one wants to hear you’re having a 25% pay cut, but there are bigger powers at play in the world,” he explained.
“I just feel the way we went about it gave me and a few other people the idea of making it a regular thing.
“If people need advice on severance packages or any contract advice – and obviously the agents do that – but it’s always good to have more support.
“I’ve had a lot of friends in rugby come to me and say: ‘I’ve been stitched up with this, or I’ve been shafted with this, or I don’t know how to approach this.’
“I’ve thought to myself, why don’t we have another union the boys can independently contact?”
‘Time to shake up the scene’
Genge has started negotiations with a host of interested parties over private funding, while he also hopes a number of players will be prepared to put money into the venture, with the prospect of a return on their investment.
“The boys would have to understand it is going to be independently run, and for that you would need a decent kitty,” he said.
“But we are getting good help from a lot of good people. This is for everyone, as a whole, to be represented much better commercially.
“The RPA do a lot of those negotiations, and it is always going to lean in favour to the RFU or PRL, and I totally understand those situations. There is no malice behind that but it is fundamentally how it works at the moment.
“I am not trying to go against owners of clubs, or the RFU or the RPA, I think we can all work in tandem.
“But I do think it is time to shake up the rugby scene, and look after players – commercially, and in every aspect – a lot better.”