IRELAND'S top rugby players have said they will pull out of next month's tour to South Africa unless the IRFU agrees to meet demands to increase match fees, tour fees and win bonuses.
The ultimatum was delivered to the union on Friday night by Niall Woods, the chief executive of the Irish Rugby Union Players Association (IRUPA). Woods left a message on the mobile phone of Philip Browne, the IRFU's CEO. It's understood that the players' demands would cost the union somewhere in the region of .500,000, money they say they don't have.
They don't have much time either. Eddie O'Sullivan's 26man squad, which is due to be announced tomorrow, is scheduled to fly out on Saturday 5 June.
A senior player, who did not wish to be named, articulated his teammates' concerns yesterday. It is now six years since there was an increase in the international match fee and win bonus.
Those fees, which have been on hold since before the Six Nations while negotiations have been ongoing, currently stand at .1,270 and .3,810 respectively. It seems matters came to a head when the union offered the players a tour fee of .2,500, described by the player as "disgraceful." "Our match fees and win bonuses haven't budged since 1998, but ticket prices have gone up by something like 84 per cent in that time and revenues have gone up, " said the player.
"We're not looking for unreasonable amounts of money. We just want to be up with CPI (Consumer Price Index) rates. It's not as though we're one of the better paid international teams as it is.
"We're winning a lot of games and we've raised the profile of the game in this country. We're just looking for fairness. We all negotiate our own salaries but the one thing you can't negotiate is match fees and bonuses because they say they can't do it for individuals. They say it's a team sport. So that's why we're all part of the players' union, to get a reasonable deal."
In response, Browne says the only way to make more funds available is to explore some additional commercial activities ? which would involve more work for the players, of course. Browne is hopeful the tour will go ahead but as things stand, there isn't enough money to go around.
Browne said: "We've got to try and resolve the situation and be practical about it too.
We're an organisation with a .6m deficit this year. In the last round of negotiations, the national players accepted terms and conditions through their agents and achieved a 20 per cent increase on average across the board. Over the last three years, their salaries have increased by 50 per cent.
"The reality is that we've benchmarked our international match-related payments against Scotland and Wales which would be the comparable countries to us.
In fact, they'd both have a larger turnover than Ireland, mainly as a result of the larger stadia that they have and our match-related payments are bang on the button." Browne anticipated that he and Woods would be meeting early next week to achieve a resolution.