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Rugby: Saracens fined millions, docked points for salary cap scandal

In what is being dubbed the biggest story in English club rugby history, Saracens Premiership and European champions are facing a 35 point deduction and £ 5m (NZD $ 10m) fine for breaching salary cap regulations over the last three seasons.

This is not the eighth news of England's World Cup squad, still reeling from their 20-point defeat to the Springboks in the final, wanted to confront after returning home.

The maximum penalty of 35 points deducted and the £ 5,360,272.31 fine – the largest ever handed out in English rugby club – comes after a seven-month investigation from Premiership Rugby (PRL) into Saracens' practices over the past nine months after it was revealed to them most high profile players entered into an investment or property partnership with the club's chairman, Nigel Wray.

Saracens have won five English domestic titles in the past nine years, three European crowns from the last four.

Last season they pulled off the double.

Two of those domestic titles have come under investigation in the Premiership Rugby timeframe, with Saracens winning 53 of 72 matches.

Their stacked squad includes England test stars Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Billy and Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, George Kruis, Elliot Daly along with Lions and Welsh fullback Liam Williams, Springboks prop Vincent Koch and New Zealand-raised Scotland international Sean Maitland.

A statement from Premiership Rugby read: "The independent panel's decision is that the 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 has been found to have exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in each of the three seasons.

"The salary cap regulations stipulate that deduction points may only be imposed in the current season (2019-20). The sanction has no bearing on any other domestic or European competition."

The punishment drops Saracens to the foot of the Premiership table ahead of their fourth game of the season on minus 26 points, leaving the squad facing an uphill battle to avoid relegation.

England's domestic salary cap, which sits at £ 7m excluding two marquee players, aims to level the playing field for all clubs in the league.

Saracens respond strongly and will seek a review of the decision by an arbitration body. The review can only be made on the basis that there has been an error of law, the decision is irrational or contains procedural unfairness.

Sanctions will be suspended pending the outcome of the appeal.

There is also, however, the possibility that other clubs will call for Saracens to be stripped of titles.

The announcement of this punishment is thought to have been delayed to avoid derailing England's World Cup campaign.

In a statement, Saracens said they were "shocked and disappointed" by the outcome.

"The club is pleased the panel acknowledged that it did not deliberately attempt to breach the salary cap and steadfastly maintain that player co-investments do not constitute salary under the regulations. This view is supported by independent legal and professional experts.

"The club will continue to vigorously defend this position especially as PRL precedent already exists whereby co-investments have not been considered part of the salary in the regulations.

"As previously stated, the club made administrative errors regarding the non-disclosure of some transactions to PRL and apologize for this.

"We are pleased to confirm we now have a robust governance framework in place and this will be overseen by an external consultant to ensure the Club follows best practice.

"Furthermore, it is the club's belief that the narrow interpretation of the regulations is detrimental to player welfare across the league and is damaging to the development of elite level rugby in the UK."

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