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Representatives from the elite men’s and women’s playing community discussed the latest advancements in player welfare, law trials and season structure at the second annual Rugby Athletes’ Commission (RAC) in London this week. With rugby reaching and inspiring new participants and audiences in record numbers, World Rugby and the International Rugby Players’ Association (IRPA) jointly established the key forum in 2014 with the purpose of furthering player engagement and involvement within rugby’s decision-making structures.

Reporting to the Rugby Committee, the RAC is chaired by Rugby Committee Chairman John Jeffrey and comprises IRPA representatives from the men’s and women’s 15s and sevens environments. The attendees in London were Victor Vito (New Zealand), Kosei Ono (Japan), Rachael Burford (England), Charlie Hayter (England), John Moonlight (Canada), Sophie Spence (Ireland) and Akapusi Qera (Fiji).  The meeting in London followed what has been hailed as the most successful, competitive and compelling Rugby World Cup to date and nine months ahead of rugby sevens’ Olympic Games debut at Rio 2016. And with the sport growing on all fronts, player representatives on the RAC are providing an invaluable insight and advising World Rugby on matters relating to player welfare, season structure, playing and training load and laws of the game.  During two days of highly constructive discussion, the following actions were agreed:

  • Joint commitment to developing a revised memorandum of understanding between World Rugby and IRPA to provide a blueprint of collaboration based on areas of common interest as rugby continues to enjoy unprecedented growth on all front. 
  • Joint commitment to collaborate on strengthening the application of the regulatory framework that governs agent activity in the game and in developing initiatives that support and educate players in respect of agents and contractual agreement
  • Joint commitment to consult and collaborate on matters regarding the expansion and development of the women’s game and best-practice guidelines for the high performance environment 

  • Joint commitment to consult on the development of best-practice guidelines for application within high performance rugby environments that will include guidelines around a player’s rugby development plan; player career, education, financial and personal development and support; mental health and wellness education and support; and player education and awareness programmes covering key integrity related topics such as anti-doping, wagering and corruption, concussion management and social media
  • Joint commitment to involve the world’s top players in supporting World Rugby’s Get Into Rugby mass-participation programme, which has successfully attracted a million children to the sport worldwide in 2015 
  • Commitment to continued player involvement in World Rugby law review and medical working groups 

Jeffery said: “The Rugby Athletes’ Commission plays an important role in ensuring that player opinions are prominent within World Rugby’s decision-making processes and we enjoyed two highly productive and constructive days considering the major topics of mutual interest. “Players are at the very heart of our sport and this body has already played a significant role in advising and informing the Rugby Committee on matters relating to the playing of the game. The work of this group will ensure that, as a sport, we can look to an exciting future of growth and prosperity with players at the centre of the journey.” IRPA Chief Executive Rob Nichol said: “As the worldwide representative body of professional players, IRPA ensures the players have the ability to work with World Rugby to address international issues of importance to them and the game. This forum, and the bonus of having international professional player representatives take time out from their schedules and attend in person, provides a crucial platform to achieving this.

“As expected the player representatives fully engaged in the topics with an impressive level of knowledge, competence and professionalism. This means the forum produced a number of great recommendations and initiatives that will now be acted upon between IRPA and World Rugby”England Women’s Rugby World Cup winner and Rugby Committee representative Burford added: “The players are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for the sport as we look forward to an Olympic year and beyond to Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 and Rugby World Cup 2019. The Rugby Athletes’ Commission enables players to convert those opportunities in partnership with World Rugby by contributing to the game’s decision-making processes.”

Rugby World Cup 2015 winner Vito added: “Both IRPA and World Rugby now have several tangible initiatives that we will be progressing together over the coming months. Gathering together like-minded rugby athletes from around the rugby world to discuss issues that affect them directly both on and off the pitch can only further enhance and protect the game we love.”