Breach of trust leaves door open for civil action
Punishment sounds a warning to Premiership – but some clubs may want to be compensated
The question is: “What next?” And not just for Saracens, but for rugby union in this country. We can start by taking a positive out of it, as bleak as this situation might seem. Saracens have indicated that they are going to appeal, so – as with any legal process – they are not guilty yet. But, if you are an owner, a shareholder or a board member of a Premiership club, you are going to be a lot less likely to want to breach any of these regulations in future.
That will bring down the average wage of players in the competition, which might not be very good for current players. But I think it might be better in the long run and allow the game to grow.
As I said a while ago, the best way of getting around the salary cap is to make everything transparent – at least among the clubs, if not to the general public. That stops agents creating a secondary market as well.
After the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour, Mark Mccall made the point that Saracens were struggling to keep their homegrown players – Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and others. In reality, if you sign up to the rules of a competition and then disregard them, you have to face the consequences. I cannot prove it, but I do not think Saracens will have been alone in bending these rules over the past few years, judging by what players are allegedly being paid. I imagine there will be a pursuit of other clubs. The dam has been broken now, so you might as well go after all of them.
The more negative connotations begin with a major trust issue. Rugby has traditionally been fairly good with trust as a concept. But what are the other clubs thinking?
In 2010, Australian rugby league side Melbourne Storm had two NRL titles stripped for flouting the salary cap. Doing that to Saracens retrospectively would be difficult.
You cannot just give Exeter Chiefs the finals that they lost against Saracens. Look at
Gloucester last season. They would have had a home semi-final without Saracens. And they had beaten Exeter during the season.
It could be an option to take a name off the trophy entirely. Obviously it is not good for the first Gallagher Premiership to have no official winner.
Another argument is that it could be more than just Premiership Rugby asking Saracens for money. If Exeter had won both of their finals against Saracens in 2018 and 2019, they would be entitled to assume that they would be selling more season tickets and that their corporate revenues would have gone up.
That is what would worry me if I was involved with Saracens. Because they have been involved in a breach to such a substantial detriment of other clubs, could they be at risk of further civil action? It is a case of company A cheating laws so that company B is deprived of money and success. Should company B let company A get on with it?
I am not so sure. I do not think there is anything that stops subsequent action by third parties in the Premiership’s shareholders’ agreement. That could be a horrible outcome.
I imagine players from other clubs might be feeling the same way athletes do after they have been cheated out of an Olympic medal by a rival who has been doping. That might sound a bit strong, but I have never lost in a final to Saracens.
A member of that Exeter team who were so devastated after losing in that 37-34 thriller at Twickenham six months ago would probably give you a different answer. In Saracens’ statement, Nigel Wray said that there had been a precedent set and that co-invested companies had not been part of the salary cap. This appears to be their best route out of this mess.
You can almost understand the rumours that Premiership Rugby handed out a minor slap on the wrist a few years ago when the first breach was found.
They were hoping that would nip it in the bud, but Saracens have wanted to win so much. The club have gone on to do amazing things, but it is all tainted now. People will not trust their greatness and I understand that point of view.
Saracens recently opened a high school in Barnet and there are four values written out on the front of the building: Discipline, hard work, humility and honesty. They might need to put a line through the last one after this.
As a club, Saracens have prided themselves on sticking together. This whole thing will put that to the test.