English and European champions Saracens have accepted their punishment of a 35-point deduction and fine of more than £5million over breaches of salary cap rules.
Here, the PA news agency seeks answers to the burning questions around the case.
Why is there a salary cap and how big is it?
Premiership Rugby, which manages the top league in the English club game, introduced the salary cap in 1999 with the twin aims of ensuring a level playing field and maintaining a competitive, growing and financially sustainable league, ie: preventing the clubs from the pitfalls of over-spending.
The cap was increased from £6.5m to £7m ahead of the 2017-18 season and will remain at this level until the end of the 2019-20 season. The ceiling includes dispensation for academy and injured players and effectively raises the possible spend to around £9m.
What exactly have Saracens done?
Premiership Rugby responded to allegations of a salary cap breach by carrying out an investigation which took nine months. An independent panel was then appointed in June by dispute service, Sport Resolutions, and earlier this month it ruled that Saracens failed to disclose payments to players in each of the last three seasons. It concluded that the club also exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in that time.
Huge news coming out of Saracens. Chairman Nigel Wray has said he is taking 'full responsibility' as the club opt not to contest salary cap punishment. https://t.co/WChWPCNiqv
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 18, 2019
No details have been revealed on the size of the undisclosed payments or the recipients but Premiership Rugby’s investigations were thought to have centred around owner Nigel Wray’s involvements in companies such as VunProp Ltd (Mako and Billy Vunipola), Faz Investments Ltd (Owen Farrell), Wiggy9 Ltd (Richard Wigglesworth) and MN Property Solutions Ltd (Maro Itoje).
Wray in the past argued that ‘investment is not salary’ and likened the arrangements to his public support of coffee and brewing companies set up by players.
A Saracens statement issued when the allegations came to light said: “A professional playing career in rugby can be short. We have a responsibility to help our players fulfil their potential, not just on the pitch but off it too.”
How does the punishment compare with any previous breaches?
For years there have been rumours of clubs breaking the cap in a big way – in 2015 eight of the top-flight clubs took the unusual step of publicly announcing they had not been investigated for potential breaches – but nothing was proven until now.
In February, Harlequins were fined £6,239.50 after exceeding the Premiership’s salary cap in the 2017-18 season. They were £12,479 over the £7m limit but Premiership Rugby said there was no suggestion the breach was deliberate and the club were docked 50p per £1 overspent in accordance with competition regulations.
Why have Saracens decided against an appeal?
In a statement on Monday, Wray accepted that the club should have acted differently in relation to the arrangements between himself and the players.
“Any review or further appeal would be a costly, time consuming and destabilising exercise and so for the good of the game, the Premiership and this wonderful club and all its great people, a club which I have loved and served for 25 years, we have decided not to appeal but to take our punishment and hopefully soon put this behind us.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 18, 2019
“I recognise that the arrangements between myself and players, made in good faith, which comprise the material element of the charges, should have been brought to the attention of the salary cap manager for consultation prior to entering into them.
“As chairman, I must take full responsibility for the arrangements that led to this outcome. It is important to stress that our excellent coaching staff were not involved in these issues in any way.”
What now for Saracens?
The sanctions do not affect any of the club’s past titles and Saracens, who now sit 26 points adrift of Leicester at the foot of the Premiership table after four matches, insist they will not be forced to sell players as a result of the ruling.
“We can confirm that we are complying strictly with the salary cap regulations in the current season and will continue to work transparently with Premiership Rugby in this regard,” added Wray’s statement.
“We will shortly introduce robust independent governance measures acceptable to all, including the appointment to the Saracens board of a director who will oversee a new governance regime. I will continue as always to support the club financially going forwards to ensure there is no financial instability or uncertainty.”
In conclusion, Wray said: “Perhaps we have done the wrong thing for the right reasons, but we must now draw a line and come together as Saracens to fully support our players, our coaches and our hard-working staff.”
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