Players association steps in over judicial system

MARC HINTON
Last updated 11:13 05/12/2012
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Rugby's international players association wants to use recent players to help fix a judicial system in the professional game that is fundamentally flawed.

That was one of a number of key recommendations that came out of the International Rugby Players Association's recent annual conference in Dublin.

IRPA, led by Kiwi players association boss Rob Nichol, addressed a number of the major issues in the international game during its annual get-together, including the related areas of depression and concussion, the vexed subject of the global season structure, international player release regulations and anti-doping.

But it was its recommendations on the game's judicial system that were most topical, especially given the recent controversy around suspensions imposed during the recent November test matches.

"Despite recent reviews, the judicial system designed to address issues of foul play continues to let the game down," said IRPA in its press release, going on to point out that continuing inconsistent decisions had created a perception that the process was not working.

Players associations had been involved in new initiatives trialled by SANZAR this year, but Nichol said IRPA wanted to table ideas that "will enhance the effectiveness of the judicial system".

Among these are using recently retired players to offer a fresh perspective, which follows the long established lead provided by the National Rugby League.

Nichol, who is IRPA's executive director, said it was about "ensuring we have quality and capable people in the various roles".

"We will also propose greater involvement of recently retired professional players, better utilisation of the TMO in the citing process, and the development of a new sanctioning regime that introduces five levels of sanction based on suspension for a number of games, as opposed to the current three levels based on suspension for weeks.

"The objective will be to narrow down the subjective nature of the sanctioning regime, and to ensure that the primary focus is to suspend for the appropriate number of identified games."

Nichol also presented to IRPA on the subject of "mental health" of the professional athlete.

"It is our belief that the prevalence of depression and feelings of despair is significant among professional athletes and that the mental health of the professional rugby player... is an area we need to put more resource and focus into," said Nichol.

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The international players' body also added its support for recent initiatives around concussion, including the Pitch Side Concussion Assessment process.

"We finally have a process under trial that provides what we believe to be a common sense approach to removing a player so that appropriate assessments can take place," said Nichol.

IRPA emphasised it was vital teams did not abuse the process that allowed players to be replaced for five minutes while an assessment was made, and also pointed out that PSCA was only a "screening" tool.

The players remain concerned about the length and "cluttered" nature of the season and seek better "alignment" between the club and international games, as well as between north and south.

"There comes a time when perhaps less is more from a fan engagement and commercial perspective," said Nichol. "We believe it is time the game provided a greater emphasis on quality as opposed to quantity in its long-term competition planning."

It was felt the period post-2015 provided the best opportunity for any potential changes to be made, though there was acknowledgement existing commitments made it problematic.

On the vexed subject of international player release regulations, IRPA concluded "the current system does not work in the way we all want it to" and called for a new solution to be found by key stakeholders.

The players' body also addressed the World Anti-Doping Agency's current review of its code.

"IRPA favours a stronger focus on educating athletes, particularly young athletes looking to 'make it', and catching those athletes who are using performance- enhancing drugs to cheat," said Nichol.

IRPA chairman Damian Hopley said the conference window had delivered a "fantastic opportunity for player associations to share best practice and initiatives focused on advancing player welfare".

"It also presented a great opportunity for IRPA to refine its focus to ensure professional players had representation and input into the core issues and opportunities faced by players and the game."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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