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RPA: Mascots are paid minimum wage – why are academy players not?

Harlequins mascot Harley Bear. Rugby Players' Association general secretary Christian Day is seeking to introduce a minimum salary into the Gallagher Premiership after claiming that club mascots are better paid than some of his members. Issue date: Tuesday January 24, 2023 - Steve Paston/PA Wire
Harlequins mascot Harley Bear. Rugby Players' Association general secretary Christian Day is seeking to introduce a minimum salary into the Gallagher Premiership after claiming that club mascots are better paid than some of his members. Issue date: Tuesday January 24, 2023 - Steve Paston/PA Wire

The Rugby Players’ Association wants to increase the salaries of men’s academy players after it was revealed some are earning less than club mascots in the Premiership.

Christian Day, who was voted as the union’s first democratically elected general secretary earlier this month, has vowed to offer greater financial protection to younger players coming through what he insisted needed to be a “fairer” system.

Academy players are paid between the region of £10,000 to £20,000 and while some are understood to have accommodation included as part of their contract, Day said he knew of some 18 to 23-year-olds who were not being paid the minimum wage. In more extreme cases, he highlighted how some aspiring youngsters are earning less than match-day mascots.

“What made me laugh the other day was that Leicester Tigers were advertising for a new ‘Welford the Tiger’ on the living wage, so the Tiger gets protected and the players don’t,” said former Sale Sharks and Northampton Saints lock Day, although there is no suggestion that Leicester in particular are not paying players minimum wage.

“That is a big one for me. How do you put an hour rate on an away trip for a week? It is a big priority of mine and I would expect we will come to a common sense solution.”

'Professional sport is not a normal job'

Being Leicester Tigers' stripe-clad fluffy mascot pays £9.50 an hour – the current national living wage for those aged over 23. Responsibilities for the role, which requires work at weekends and unsociable hours, include “being entertaining and engaging to fans”.

Day, who was paid an annual salary of £5,000 when he turned professional in 2001, insisted that an increase in academy wages had to be factored into the Premiership’s salary cap because “professional sport is not a normal job”.

“If you apply the minimum wage to two hours of training a day, you could have a player earning £5,000 a year and that doesn’t work, that doesn’t fit with the sacrifice the players make, the commitment they have, the away trips,” he said.

While he stopped short of suggesting what a reasonable men’s academy salary should be, Day indicated a minimum wage had to be negotiated as part of the new professional game agreement, which will be finalised prior to the 2024-25 season.

RPA to expand membership to elite amateurs and top women players

On a day when the RPA announced its vision and aspirations for the future, the body also revealed it would be expanding its membership to include elite amateur players from English rugby’s top women’s division, the Premier 15s, from next season.

Outlining its ambition to offer “world-class representation within the women’s game”, the organisation said it would work with the Women’s Rugby Association, the independent players’ union which launched in 2021.

Highlighting the women’s game as the “biggest area of growth” for the sport with a home World Cup in 2025 – and with more than 30,000 tickets already sold for the Red Roses’ Six Nations clash against France at Twickenham on April 29 – the RPA cited closing rugby’s sports science gender gap as a big part of its manifesto.

“Our welfare advisory board has had presentations recently about female-specific issues, drivers of why ligament injuries can be different, hormonal fluctuations linked to the menstrual cycle and breast injuries – all sorts of things that we really need to develop our understanding of,” said Richard Bryan, the RPA’s player welfare director.

“At the moment, return to play protocols [for concussion in the women’s game] follow male symptomology and could actually be very different from a woman's point of view. These are the areas we need more research in.”