Monday, 13 February 2012

And to cap it all...

Depending on your perspective (which in turn depends on how deep your pockets are), the Premiership’s salary cap is either a market-distorting piece of red tape that prevents English sides from competing on a level playing field in Europe, or a precious regulation that prevents the Chelseafication of rugby.

Whatever your thoughts on the cap’s existence, if it is there then it has to be enforced. Toothless regulations only muddy the waters.

For too long – to my mind, at least – the cap has been unsatisfactorily policed. It took too long to appoint a cap manager, and when he was appointed it was all a bit too low key.

Which is why it is good news that Premiership Rugby has now appointed big-hitting law firm Charles Russell to beef up its monitoring process.

The rumours of some clubs having previously embarked on sharp practices in order to skirt the cap are legion and it would be disingenuous of the authorities to pretend otherwise.

No doubt a great number of the ‘cap dodge’ tales are apocryphal – a birthday card stuffed full of cash was a wheeze that one player once jokingly mentioned to me – but for the sake of fairness, every side in the Premiership needs to know that all the others are complying with the wage ceiling.

Looking at their CV, few would doubt that Charles Russell are the ideal practice with which to ensure clubs remain whiter than white when it comes to the cap. Its clients include the Football Association, the British Horseracing Authority, the Scottish Football Association, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union.

Contract scrutiny, spot checks and annual assessments should all be part and parcel of cap regulation. And rather like the judicial system at large, I suspect the rugby- supporting public would like cap assessment to not only be done, but be seen to be done.

Which is why an annually published cap report – with the necessary figures and sensitive information redacted – would be a welcome move.

With the addition next season of a regulation that will allow clubs to place one player outside of the cap, plus a modest increase in the basic cap, efficient monitoring will become more crucial. Charles Russell, get cracking.