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German Rugby At A Crossroads As Strike Action Yet To Find A Resolution

The German national rugby team lost at home to Chile on Saturday (32-10) in what should have been a very competitive tier two fixture. The German plans for the fixture were thrown into chaos after a number of players withdrew from the squad due to an ongoing dispute between the German Union, the Deutscher Rugby-Verband (DRV) and billionaire backer Dr Hans-Peter Wild.

At risk of being the first international to be called off due to a player strike action and the possibility of a large fine from World Rugby, the DRV pulled together a scratch side of centrally contracted 7’s players and players from the Bundesliga who aren’t on Wild’s payroll to fulfil the fixture.

The stand-off between the players and the DRV has arisen because the previous funding agreement between Dr Wild and the DRV had come to an end over the summer and no new agreement was in place despite an 18 months negotiation process. The DRV say that they were aware of the possibility of the players and coaching setup funded by Dr Wild may not be made available for this weekend. When I spoke to Sean Armstrong, a senior player and one of the squad’s joint captains, he said that the decision was taken by a group of senior professional players after last week’s game against the USA with the view it will lead to positive change in German rugby.

Manuel Wilhelm, the DRV’s sporting director, told me that the DRV wasn’t able to meet the demands of Dr Wild during the negotiating period as it would require a constitutional change of the Union. An agreement was signed 10 days after the negotiation deadline with one of Dr Wild’s appointed negotiators, yet the DRV haven’t heard from Dr Wild since the end of negotiations.

A statement issued by the players insist that any action they are taking isn’t to harm the game in Germany and they want to highlight that this isn’t a pay dispute (German players don’t get and neither are they demanding any match fees), they acknowledge that it’s upsetting for the fans. With the resumption of World Cup qualifying three months away and Germany in with a real chance of making Japan in 2019, they would like to get the situation resolved sooner rather than later.

At the crux of the issue is how much money and influence the Capri-Sun billionaire Dr Wild has on the game in Germany. He started his own rugby academy in Heidelberg which is German Rugby’s heartland over ten years ago and eventually took over and professionalised Bundesliga team, RG Heidelberg. His recent acquisition of Stade Francais shows that his ambition is still huge & with scouts around Tier 1 domestic leagues seeking German qualified players, it’s clear that Germany’s ambitions stretch beyond a single World Cup appearance. The DRV is run by enthusiastic volunteers who have the desire to see Germany transition into a Tier 1 team, yet without Dr Wild, the union lacks the resources to see this vision through.

From talking to both sides of this disagreement it’s clear that both want to see a resolution sooner rather than later and German Rugby fans will be hoping that a resolution will be swift and that German rugby can continue on its upward trajectory.

This article was written by Mark Machado (@MarkMachado) who is a freelance journalist, broadcaster and amateur rugby player from West London.

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