The Premiership club's recent successes have been tarnished by news of multiple rule breaches and Saracens are now staring up from the bottom of the table
Saracens docked 35 points and fined £5.3m for breaching salary cap rules
Saracens have been docked 35 points and fined £5.36m for repeated breaches of the salary cap regulations.
The sanctions follow a nine-month investigation by Premiership Rugby and relate to breaches in each of the past three seasons by the reigning English and European champions.
The points deduction takes immediate effect and leaves Saracens propping up the Gallagher Premiership table with a points tally of minus 26. They now look set for a relegation battle, although history suggests they will be safe – they would have finished tenth last season had the same penalty been imposed then.
However, the fallout could extend far beyond that, with questions now raised over whether some Saracens players will need to be offloaded and even whether the club’s recent titles will be allowed to stand. Exeter Chiefs won the Premiership in 2016-17 before losing the past two finals to Saracens, but David Lewis, an employment lawyer at Capital Law, says stripping Saracens of previous honours is not on the table.
“The rules are lengthy, detailed and drafted in a typically lawyerly fashion, but they only allow for an adjudication for the current season,” he says. “So even if the club was found to be in breach for the same reasons for the three previous years, it cannot be held to account retrospectively. Bad news for Exeter Chiefs.”
The current regulations run to more than 114 pages – up from 57 last year – and prescribe what a club may, and may not do, when it comes to salary. What might and might not constitute ‘salary’ is defined over around ten of these pages and the definition goes well beyond merely a set monthly wage.
Lewis adds: “In the Saracens case, the club has allegedly failed to disclose arrangements between its players and the multimillionaire club owner, Nigel Wray, where they have started joint business ventures. Presumably, this could have been a means of providing additional benefits to those players, or at the very least, something which ought to have been declared as part of the overall ‘salary’ payments.”
Saracens are entitled to seek a review of the decision by an arbitration body and have confirmed that they will appeal. The judgment was made by an independent panel, chaired by Lord Dyson, that decided Saracens failed to disclose payments to players and exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players in the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.
In a statement, Wray said: “For over 25 years I have put my heart and soul into the game I love. Together we have created something incredibly special with the Saracens family, both on and off the field.
“This is absolutely devastating for everyone associated with this amazing group of players, staff, partners and fans. It has been acknowledged by the panel that we never deliberately sought to mislead anyone or breach the cap and that’s why it feels like the rug is being completely pulled out from under our feet. We will appeal all the findings.”
There was a very different view from Tony Rowe, Exeter’s chief executive. “I don’t think the penalty is severe enough,” he told BBC Radio Devon. “You take away 35 points this year, they could still be in the semi-finals and still end up at Twickenham (in the Premiership final).”
Asked what would be a fair punishment, Rowe said: “Relegation. In professional sport in America, if you’re in breach of the salary cap you get thrown out completely.”
The salary cap regulations were introduced 20 years ago and have helped forge one of the best and most competitive leagues in sport. They not only prevent a club potentially signing all the top players and so totally dominating, but also keep spending to manageable levels.
A Premiership Rugby spokesperson said: “The salary cap is an important mechanism to ensure a level playing field for Premiership clubs and maintain a competitive, growing and financially sustainable league.
“Today’s decision by the independent panel upholds both the principle of the salary cap and the charges brought following an extensive investigation by Premiership Rugby. We are pleased that this process has reached a conclusion.”