In an extraordinary and welcome enforcement of the salary cap rules, Premiership Rugby’s nine month investigation into Saracen’s financial dealings has resulted in them being docked 35 points and fined £5m. A 35 point deficit last season would have seen the club finish in tenth place.
The crux of the issue was what some have referred to as ‘underhand’ investment or property partnerships between key players (such as Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola) and Nigel Wray, the club’s charismatic and extraordinarily wealthy chairman.
Premiership Rugby referred the case to Sports Resolutions, an independent disputes service, who, following a hearing this year, reaffirmed the charges against the Premiership champions.
The Premiership Rugby statement reads: “The decision of the independent panel is that Saracens Rugby Club failed to disclose payments to players in each of the seasons [2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19].
“In addition, the club is found to have exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in each of the three seasons.”
Saracens, in return have expressed their shock and disappointment at what they perceive to be an unjust and harsh punishment.
“The club is pleased the panel acknowledged it did not deliberately attempt to breach the salary cap and steadfastly maintains that player co-investments do not constitute salary under the regulations. This view is supported by independent legal and professional experts.”
Later, Saracens went up to suggest, in a tone notably less couched in impartial legal terminology, that, “it is the club’s belief that the panel’s narrow interpretation of the regulations is detrimental to player welfare across the league and is damaging the development of elite level rugby in the UK.”
This is a charge that will be soundly rejected throughout much of the rugby community. Is the Premiership to become akin to its old namesake, the Barclays Premier League? The Premier League is a sporting competition that may have produced some elite English football clubs and attracted incredible investment, but it has done so at the expense of its morals and the health of its relationship with the lower tiers.
Financially, the bridge between the top level rugby clubs and all those below is already far too wide. This is a statement by the regulatory authorities that clubs cannot be allowed to circumvent regulations. Premiership clubs are currently allowed to spend £7m annually, plus two ‘star’ players, is this not enough for Nigel Wray?
Ultimately, Saracens have dominated European and English rugby of late – if they have done so contrary to the regulations everyone else is abiding too, then they should pay the price.
Written by Joe Ronan