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Dream Team: Are our young talents simply playing fantasy football?

At the top end of football and rugby, salaries are on the climb due to lucrative TV deals and profitable club sponsorshipIn fact, where fast cars, flashy lifestyles and eye watering salaries appear the norm, it may come as surprise to some that not all is as it seems in the world of sport.

Recent revelations showing the gap between the top professional players and the optimistic young talents wishing to experience life in the fast lane have revealed the negative underbelly of the nation’s favourite sports. So are our young talents living in a fantasy world where they are being sold an impossible dream?

Evidence of the rift between the highest and lowest paid players in sport continues to filter through the headlines. Recently, Torquay United manger Kevin Nicholson suggested that:
“young lads are on contacts that they are unable to survive on”

With reports suggesting that many of these equated to less than the National Minimum Wage.

Legal Issues

Currently, the adult National Minimum Wage rate stands at £6.70 for over 21’s, with 18-20’s earning £5.30 and under 18’s under £3.87 respectively. Whilst this seems a far cry from sometimes hundreds of thousand pounds a week top premiership footballers are earning, it is a necessity that everyone who is entitled to the National Minimum Wage receives it.

If an employer refuses to comply, HMRC will send them a notice for the arrears plus a penalty for not paying the minimum wage. HMRC can also take them to court on behalf of the employee if the employer continues to refuse to pay the correct wage. In a recent government crackdown on rogue employers, the penalty for failure to do so was increased from £5,000 to £20,000.

The Head of the Rugby Players Association (“RPA”) Damian Hopley has commented recently: “We need a strong second tier and we need those players to be protected, valued and looked after, but that’s not the case at the moment. We want to represent those players, but right now there is no resource available to us….there has to be a strategy in place that brings the whole professional game into a healthier position. The RFU made plenty of money from the World Cup so let’s use some of that here.”

The comments of Hopley open the door for the RFU to potentially subsidise the contracts of talented young players who are cutting their teeth in the lower leagues of English rugby. Hopley added:
“The Championship has an incredibly valuable role to play, whether that’s players graduating to the Premiership and on to England or players on loan.”

The recent inclusion of Paul Hill in Eddie Jones’ first England squad is testament to the statement of Hopley above. Hill’s inclusion has come after just 9 appearances this season in the Premiership with Northampton Saints. His previous appearances (16) were in the Championship with Yorkshire Carnegie and prior to that Hill had been loaned out to Otley RFC in the fourth tier of English rugby.

There may be plenty of other talents in the lower leagues of English sport who dream of the lucrative contracts enjoyed by the elite but until they are paid a wage they can reasonably live on they will have to sacrifice their dreams for a much harsher reality.

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