In today's Telegraph:
No excuses Saracens - accept your punishment and move on
There have been rumours regarding Saracens and their potential abuse of the salary cap for years. It is thought that Premiership Rugby have investigated before only to decide not to take action because others were doing the same. This time it is all being done in the open. After arguing their case in front of an independent panel, headed by a former president of the Court of Appeal, Saracens have been found to have failed to disclose payments to players and to have exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in three seasons between 2016 and 2019. In the common man’s vernacular – cheating.
This has come about because of separate business ventures in which they are co-investors with Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Mako and Billy Vunipola. In a formal statement, Saracens claim these do not constitute salary under the regulations but have had to admit making administrative errors relating to the non-disclosure of some transactions. They claim they “now have a robust governance framework in place” to ensure best practice and say 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”.
Saracens are not claiming the total financial rewards paid to their squad are less than the salary cap. They are admitting the total is more but falls within the cap because certain rewards do not form salary. Well, co-investments are not in the list of allowed rewards in the regulations but they are in the not-allowed list as “payment in kind a player would not have received were not for his involvement with a club”. Saracens claim they did not knowingly breach the cap but setting up the co-investments was a purposeful act.
Whatever Saracens lawyers say to the contrary, this is just like many aggressive tax avoidance schemes that have been found to breach relevant rules. The advice here should be the same as there. If you genuinely want to avoid any chance of liability, do not enter into them in the first place.
As for administrative errors – are we to believe the same error occurred three years running? This is “the dog ate my homework” territory. You would have thought that a highly competent club, which they are, would have a robust governance framework in place before they were found liable for the same allegation.
Regarding player welfare – why are Saracens attempting to speak on behalf of the whole Premiership? Do clubs who want strict adherence to the cap care less about their players’ welfare? Such claims are disingenuous and only being made after the club have been caught. If this was a genuine player welfare scheme, why was it not applied across the whole squad and particularly to the less well known and rewarded players? It appears to apply to only four of their most valuable players, who already earn more than their colleagues because of international payments and other ancillary income. If elite player development is being damaged, argue your case to change the rules. The fact is, it is not, and most Premiership clubs do not agree with you.
The cynical, but only sensible interpretation, is that this was simply a loophole Saracens thought they had identified, to reward their highest profile players who would otherwise be targeted by lucrative offers from elsewhere.
There has been condonation of this behaviour from some tame journalists, with allegations of jealousy. Attempts to equate this to “Bloodgate” are consummate whataboutery and erroneous. Harlequins didn’t profit from Bloodgate; they lost to Leinster. Saracens have won multiple trophies in the years in which they were found to have breached the salary cap. Their opponents who, in most cases, make do on substantially lower budgets, have every right to be aggrieved.
Having spoken to four owners or CEOs of Premiership clubs, I can tell you that Saracens’ refusal to apologise for these multiple offences and their attempts to portray everyone else as envious have gone down as badly as the breaches themselves.
I like Saracens. I like Nigel Wray, their part owner. He has lost nearly £40 million as one of many owners who bankrolled professional rugby, when the RFU disgracefully abrogated that responsibility. I have not met one Saracens player or coach who I have disliked, going right back to my playing days.
I admire their team spirit and professionalism and would remind everyone that although spending more money increases the chances of success, it is no guarantee – witness Bath.
For their own good, Saracens should make sure that their advertised principles of honesty and humility apply to the whole club, not just certain parts of it. Drop the appeal and any claim that the salary cap is unlawful, as both stances are legally flawed. Put your hands up, take your punishment and be thankful it is not more draconian; then continue all the good work you do.
As Nigel Wray is an archetypal Narcissist, he will not take advice from anyone.