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Jonny May: rugby’s answer to Jean-Marc Bosman?

In August 2017, Jonny May used a standard rugby contract clause that allowed him to leave his position with Gloucester by paying a year’s salary to enable him to pursue other positions without Gloucester being able to agree or negotiate a transfer fee. This move has caused controversy and some degree of concern from other premiership teams, as they feel some of their players may take advantage of the same clause and walk away in the hope of better opportunities. In making this move, Jonny May has been compared to football’s Jean-Marc Bosman, but what did Bosman do for football and how does May’s move compare?

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What did Bosman change in football?

In the 1990s, Jean-Marc Bosman was unhappy with his position at RFC Liege; after the expiration of his contract, he sought out emplyment with French side Dunkirk. Liege did not want to see him go, however, so demanded a transfer fee outside the means of Dunkirk and cut Bosman’s salary by 75 per cent.

Bosman took this to the courts and eventually won a measure of freedom for football players, whereby clubs could no longer demand transfer fees after the expiration of a player’s contract. This has widely been seen as handing a huge amount of power to players and agents and concentrating skill and money in the higher-end teams at the expense of lower-tier teams.

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What does this mean for rugby?

There is some fear that Jonny May’s move will see a host of players brushing up on their rugby drill skills from resources such as https://www.sportplan.net/drills/Rugby/ and walking away from their clubs in search of better offers; however, the reality is likely to be somewhat different.

Unlike Bosman, the clause May used to escape his contract is fairly typical across premiership rugby contracts and has not been widely used. While this has been described as a ‘loophole’, it isn’t – it is a clause in the contract rather than an alternate interpretation or workaround. The clause was intended to be used by non-playing staff rather than players, however, and all 12 premiership clubs have voted to change the clause so that it no longer applies to players.

One way or another, this will not really have much impact on rugby, even without the clause being changed.