Maybe the New Zealand Rugby Union has actually got it right   27 Sep 2005

Adam Ray

Kiwi sports fans might find it easy to ignore the dispute in French and English rugby over payment and the playing schedules of players, but it highlights a massive problem in professional sport. With clubs paying so much money for their players, why should they spend so much time playing for their country?

English rugby clubs lost dozens of their best players for the Lions tour, and were similarly affected in the run-up to the Rugby World Cup. National sporting organisations might try to recompense clubs when their players turn out for national duty, but how do you provide for injuries or fatigue from international duty?

Suddenly the central contract system employed by New Zealand rugby and cricket makes more sense.

If players are paid from a central fund administered by a national body, then their clubs have less of a right to hinder them playing for their country. Compare the way the All Blacks were rested after the Tri-Nations with the squabbling in France and England over when players should resume playing after international duty.

Chris Jack and Richie McCaw only returned to full training this week, nearly a month after the end of the Tri-Nations. In France, a string of clubs have been fined for not resting their players after they returned from duty with the national team.

Players are commodities in this instance, and clubs cannot be blamed for trying to use them for maximum gain. The only problem is the demands on players to play both domestic and international level rugby are only going to increase. In many sports the clubs pay most of the players’ wages, to the detriment of their desire or ability to play for their national team. Whoever pays most of the players’ wages, whether it is the clubs as in England, or the central body as in New Zealand, can naturally expect to have the biggest say in scheduling.

All professional sports, from rugby to cricket to soccer to netball, are going to aim to get the most out of their players, from playing as many games as possible to making money from marketing and licensing. But it is best for the national organisation to pay players, rather than leaving them under the control of clubs.

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