THE realities of the global financial crisis have not gone unnoticed in the Wallabies’ dressing room, with players yesterday voting to accept a cut in Test match fees.
Captain Stirling Mortlock said players were willing to take a hit to their pockets because they knew Australian Rugby Union officials had also accepted a cut in salaries and directors’ fees.
"Everyone is affected by this," the Brumbies centre said. "It reflects the ARU’s policy that everyone is in this together. The public side of the ARU is the playing group but just as important to how we function are the people in admin. Everyone across the board has had to tighten up.
"The guys are all in the loop and understand what is going on. The crisis is affecting everyone. That is blatantly obvious. We, as players, are doing our part. Hopefully, as the economy recovers, we can resume [usual fees]. But we are more than happy with the stance we have taken. Sanity has prevailed. It’s a positive start to the year."
The Rugby Union Players’ Association yesterday announced that Test fees would drop by $874 a game this year, pending a review in June. The Wallabies, who play up to 14 Tests a year, will kick-off their season against the Barbarians at the SFS in Sydney in June 6 and play their first Test against Italy in Canberra on June 13.
Last year, the Wallabies received $11,875 each a Test. That was due to increase by 4.2 per cent this year to $12,374 a match. But the ARU and RUPA, in consultation with its members, accepted a drop to $11,500 a Test.
Waratahs and Wallabies prop Al Baxter said the decision to back the ARU’s request last month was unanimous. "We thought it prudent and sensible for the the good of the game that we weren’t adding any extra financial burden on to the ARU," said Baxter, a RUPA board member.
"It was a unanimous decision. But it was taken with some seriousness. A rugby player’s career is so finite. To take a pay cut, you don’t often see any of that back. Usually, you are out of the game by the time it comes back. You have to spend a fair few years in the system to become a Wallaby player, then the lifespan isn’t enormous. A lot of guys who made this decision probably won’t see the benefit, but are doing it for the players to come."
Western Force captain Nathan Sharpe, also a RUPA board member, said the bigger picture was more important than the sacrifice of $874 a match.
"When you consider how the majority of people and businesses have been affected by the current economic situation, this was a more than reasonable request by the ARU," the Wallabies second-rower said.
"As players, we recognise that we have to be flexible to ensure the long-term financial viability of the game, especially during these tougher times. Realistically, it’s not a huge sacrifice for each individual player, but when it adds up it is a significant saving for the organisation."
RUPA chief executive Tony Dempsey said: "The ARU were able to convince us that, like most industries, there were abnormal financial constraints being imposed on our sport that needed addressing from all key stakeholders, including the players themselves. The ARU was [also] able to illustrate to RUPA that they were adopting sensible measures to reduce costs."
The ARU lost $8.5 million in 2007 before the financial crisis struck, but it is understood that, despite recent reports, it should still finish in the black for last year – albeit just.
Besides disbanding the Australian Rugby Championship after one season in 2007, many staff have departed by natural or planned attrition.
In light of the economic crisis, the ARU cancelled this year’s Australia A program and Australian Rugby Shield.
And an ARU spokesman yesterday confirmed that senior management had agreed to salary reductions and that board members supported significant cuts to their directors’ fees.
The strategy will "ensure ARU finances remain robust", the spokesman said.
"We have had savings across all aspects of the business … any pain is being shared."