Damian Hopley was capped three times for England and was a member of their successful 1993 Rugby Sevens World Cup side. But three years later, disaster struck.
Presenter:Chris Rea, Total Rugby
Speaker:Damien Hopley, Rugby Players Association, Ben McGregor, Player Development Programme, Rugby Players Association
HOPLEY: I was captaining the england seven's team in hong kong in 1996, so just 25, playing against scotland, went to tackle gregor townsend i think from memory and my knee just sort of caved in and so i tried to get up and run away. and yea there was a popping noise, it's a classic acl tear and realized it wasn't so good.
I then spent the next 20 months trying to come back and in the interim had about eight operations, two knee reconstructions. Then over that time realised i'd have to retire and so i did that aged 27.
REA: Shocked at the lack of support he'd received, Hopley decided to do something about it, and set up the Rugby Players' Association.
HOPLEY: It sort of struck me that i wasn't going to be the last casuality that would miss out on a professional income. so i then met with the professional cricketers' association and really learnt a lot about what they do. Then went and started talking to the playerrs and saying ' Guys, I think we need to do something here that's proactive and meaningful. And in true Rugby fashion they all said 'well you get on and do it and we'll be right behind you'. And to be fair to them, they were.
So, I set this up with no funding in my front room in west London, back in August 1998 and I think that the objective hasn't changed since that day. It is all about promoting and protecting our players interests, so for us it's about when players come into the game at academy level we wanna be there to provide independent advice, we want to be encouraging them to be continuing their studies whilst they are playing because there absolutely is enough time despite a lot of protestations from players that, that isn't the case. But also make sure players take responsibility for their own careers because there are a number of players I think move into a professional sports environment and they become quite institutionalised a lot of things are done for them and it becomes quite one dimensional.
I think it's sometimes hard to tell a twenty one year old he needs to start studying or that he needs to tear himself away from Call of Duty because he needs to think about a career after rugby, you know I was twenty five when I got injured and I thought I could run through brick walls until least my mid-thirties.
So for us it's about trying to ensure those guys have the best possible opportunity to maximize not only their on field earnings but also what they are doing off field and their careers for when they have to finish rugby, be that through injury early in their careers, like I went through or hopefully after a long and fulfilled career and they come out and they are able to transition into the second and probably more lucrative and more important part of their lives.
REA: To keep up with the ever-increasing demands on players, the RPA set up the Player Development Programme. Ben McGregor is one of the managers with the programme.
MCGREGOR: People know the RPA as the representative voice of the collective players - our role is to understand the individuals inside and out. Our work involves going into the clubs every single week, so I split my time between Wasps and Quins sitting down with players to make individual development plans, which will inform us around the kind of support and plans that players have, so the support we can provide to players and open up access to opportunities be it in terms of welfare support and maybe career aspirations beyond rugby. It's a fun place to be because when you're lead by individuals there's no 'one size fits all', You can go off into some wonderful examples of case work for them
carpentry to being a pilot and then the more stereotypical route of coaching and teaching and also going into business as well. It's a very varied role.
HOPLEY: We've had some great success stories of players who have studied successfully, who got jobs successfully of the back of the program and obviously we want to try and create more and more momentum here so that you know, players identify rugby in England is not only a on field professional opportunity but also a profession that creates or prepares them for life after rugby.
REA: The RPA has come a long way in a short time and in a professional game, there will always be a need for such an organization.
HOPLEY: There are a number of key welfare projects we want to do more of. And for us we're very fortunate we have two good stakeholders in our premiership rugby and the RFU they support programs, they understand what we're trying to achieve and you know, they get it and that makes our life a lot easier, it's not always plain sailing, there are times when we do clash heads, but the important thing is we are trying to get to the same end goal, which is to create the best league in the world, but also the best players around, role models about they are doing on field, off field, and ensure that rugby can uphold that sort of, that great standing it has within the sporting world.
And internationally, we are also looking at how we can grow that influence. so there are player associations in South Africa, New Zealand,and Australia; ourselves, France, Ireland, Wales and Argentina. we're looking at setting up a Pacific islanders association, a Scottish players association, an American players association. So, this whole movement is growing, the players are getting a much bigger voice and influence in the sport - and that's how it should be.