Players First

Omar 1Omar Hassanein is a big man with a simple ambition, to put players first in the sport of Rugby.  Sport for Business caught up with him fort an exclusive interview on the importance of player welfare.

This is a big year for the sport and it got off to an incredible start on Saturday with a power packed victory over the world’s second best team in South Africa, despite their being big players missing through injury, illness and retirement.

“We want to put the right structures in place so that a high level of achievement can be maintained not over one or two years but over 20 years and through generations of players,” said Hassanein who himself hails from Australia but who holds up the All Blacks as the masters of putting the right arrangements in place to secure long term success.

“Players have to be at the heart of what the sport is.  They are the ones that deliver the winning try or the crucial kick and when they are fully invested in the process of improvement that is when the magic happens at its most consistent level.”

Life beyond the lines

IRUPA is all about making sure that the players have the best shot at playing well and coping with life beyond the white lines.

“Part of our role is to advise and assist in making sure that conditions are as good as they can be but that’s not all about money.”

“The French and English clubs are increasingly finding themselves with bigger pots of cash but Irish rugby is holding on to it’s star players because of a number of reasons, from the welfare programmes we have here to the sense of community within the sport and that will be important as the game develops both at club or provincial level as well as in the international arena.”

There are five pillars in the IRUPA approach to maintaining a strong and well cared for player base.


Career development, personal development, financial understanding, image and wellbeing.  Each is managed through well tailored and specific programmes with different third parties and a team of player representatives and specialists back at base.

Last week the team was joined by European Athletics sprint champion Derval O’Rourke who will bring her knowledge of life in the spotlight to bear working with players in Munster.

“It’s a strong team of people that are there to provide the support a player needs at different stages of his career,” continued Hassanein.

“Over recent years we have put 33 players through a partnership programme with Boardmatch, helping to bring the experience they have from dressing rooms and high pressure environments through to the world of business and charity.  They provide plenty but they also learn a lot and that’s an important win win part of that programme.”

“We also run well structured mentoring programmes through which players can gain hands on experience of what the business world demands of them.”

“It’s never enough to think that your career on the pitch will take you through a post playing career in business.”


“Sure it will help in getting you noticed and perhaps in securing a role but it’s what you do from that day on that determines your success.”

“We have run up-skilling courses with Accenture where groups of players who feel that project management skills, excel courses or setting up a small business will be of interest.”

“We monitor the courses and the player feedback to produce evidence based improvements.”

“This is not something that can be simply badged and forgotten about. It’s a dynamic and always changing environment, and the aim is to continue raising the threshold of what we can deliver and what players can expect.”


“At it’s core is the belief that a balanced athlete is a better athlete.”

“A number of players are building their own interests.  There were plenty at the Web Summit last week and their engagement in that world of higher octane business helps them to develop their thinking on what to do when the yard is lost or the hits take longer to recover from on the field.”

“The process starts early, as soon as a player joins an Academy and we encourage the more experienced players to be part of that process as well.”

“Young players learn more from what they see than what they are told and we want every player to realise their own responsibility as role models.”

“We also carry it through to the other side of a players life in the game.”

Inaugural IRUPA Clubhouse for Past Players hosted by MSL Ballsbridge Motors“The IRUPA Clubhouse has been a great initiative for providing support to players that have finished in the game and who are adjusting to life in a suit rather than a track suit.”

“We have some great partners in the business world that enable us to create the right environment, always trying to raise the bar.”

“The win on Saturday was great and we can all enjoy the after glow.  Our ambition with the players is to build the right relationships across the sport that will make that the norm at this level.  It’s a great journey to be on.”


Similar Articles