Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The oddities and contradictions of Premiership Rugby's salary cap enforcement

Have Premiership turkeys just voted for Christmas? My thoughts on Premiership Rugby's tough-talking over the policing of the salary cap.

A flimsy regulation that is easily circumvented by canny financial directors or a useful way of ensuring that Premiership teams compete on a level playing field?

Whatever your view, the salary cap remains as hotly-debated now as it was in 1999 when it was first introduced by the top-flight English clubs.

Whispers, nudges and chin-stroking surround the cap on the players’ wage bill. Sit in a rugby press box or a rugby-loving pub and the subject of which club is flouting the cap and by what means will, in the normal course of things, pop up before you can say ‘Pay-him-extra-by-slipping-a brown-envelope-in-his-training-bag-on-his-birthday-and-by-paying-his-missus-to- do-phantom-shifts-in-the-club-shop’.

Coaches aren’t immune from making nudges, either. Every so often, a director of rugby or a head coach will lob an innuendo about a breach of the cap in another club’s direction, usually in the run up to them playing that coming Saturday.

Now we all have a chance to snitch. Premiership Rugby announced this week that it has set up a salary cap hotline phone number. It’s like Crimestoppers, only for rugby. Capstoppers, you might say. Anyone with intel about a club being in breach of the £4.26million cap is urged to email salarycap@ premiershiprugby.com or call 07583 826343.

Hot air and posturing? Not if Premiership Rugby is to be believed. The umbrella group representing top sides has said there will be “increased monitoring, investigation and transparency” of the cap. Moreover, the organisation has said it will “now undertake an Investigatory Audit in addition to the current annual Salary Cap audit which can involve using independent experts, to access relevant records held by a club who are suspected of breaching the regulations”.

To my ears, that is the toughest Premiership Rugby has ever sounded on enforcing the cap. Great news, you might say.

The problem, however, is this. The salary cap is voted for by the clubs. So if one or more clubs has voted for the beefed-up enforcement of the salary cap despite being in contravention of the wage limit, then at least one turkey has voted for Christmas. But turkeys of this sort don’t vote for Christmas – not unless they have a cheeky escape route from the turkey pen already in mind.

Also, is it right that those clubs suspected of breaching the cap will have a confidential disciplinary hearing, as the current terms state?

Would the integrity of the game not be better served if the names of such clubs were made public before such hearings took place, thereby enabling those with potentially corroborating information to come forward?

But however flawed the policing of the cap might be, this muscle-flexing is welcome.

You never know, with enough calls to the hotline before Advent, one of the turkeys could be roasted by Christmas.

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