ON HIS FINAL DAY WITH THE RPA, CEO DAMIAN HOPLEY MBE HAS WRITTEN UP SOME FINAL THOUGHTS...
Today marks my final day at The Rugby Players Association almost 24 years to the day that I founded the Organisation back in 1998 when professional rugby was in its infancy.
As I look back and reflect on what we have achieved, I take enormous pride in the significant progress we have made to ensure that players today receive world leading security around welfare, insurance, personal development and mental and physical wellbeing.
As some of you may know, I founded the RPA from my front room in 1998 on the back of several knee operations after my career ending injury. I received no support from the RFU whatsoever despite being an England international which was appalling, so I was inspired and determined that my plight should neither be in vain nor repeated for professional players going forward. For the first two years we had no income apart from member subscriptions of £100 per annum, and we worked for free because we were so passionate about the cause of Player Welfare. However, we did have the most important currency in the game – The Players Voice and that is still true of all Player Associations around the world today.
Every single Players Association receives money from the sport within which they operate, be that TV monies, Revenue Share or a direct payment from the sport as happens in many rugby territories, but our independence and value to our members has never been more important than it is today.
Those first few years and beyond were both exciting and terrifying in equal measure as we battled and worked with the authorities on several fronts in delivering the following for our membership:
Not a bad return from a standing start and a vision and collective passion to work hard and support our members.
I have been fortunate to get round a number of clubs in my final weeks with my colleagues to catch up with many players and outline the exciting vision for the RPA going forward, and I will close out my time at the RPA on Monday at my beloved Wasps, the club that gave me my start on this extraordinary journey in rugby; as a fan watching my eldest brother, Phil; as a player with some of the greats of my time and then as an administrator supporting, representing and shaping the game in England. It is fitting that I will leave the game where I started, at the best club in the world, bar none.
It has been my absolute privilege to lead the RPA in representing, supporting and developing thousands of players as well as work with so many talented colleagues, stakeholders and business partners during that time. I’m not, as many have suggested, retiring (I wish), but I will take some time out, reflect on the outstanding success of the RPA and then see where the next opportunities lie. My book will definitely be a good read.
So as I approach my final hours in this incredible role, I want to say an enormous thank you to you all for your support over the years. I owe rugby an awful lot despite the heartbreak of a career ending injury at 27 and the 13 operations that followed, but I wouldn’t change what happened to me for anything. My abiding hope is that future generations of players can also look back with unabashed pride at their legacy of leaving our game in a better place than where they found it.
Good luck to you all for the season ahead, especially in both the Women’s and Men’s forthcoming RWC’s. I look forward to seeing great things from the RPA, IRP and our beloved game in the years to come.