Saracens salary cap defence was HOGWASH!
REVEALED The ‘proud boast’ of club boss that exposed rugby’s culture of cheating
LORD MYNERS has dismissed Saracens’ ‘boy scouts’ defence against breaking the salary cap as ‘a load of hogwash’.
The man in charge of the review of rugby’s biggest scandal has broken his silence in a rare interview with The Mail on Sunday.
Myners has revealed how one club boasted about their ability to cheat the rules and, after his proposals were approved by Premiership clubs this week, he issued a final rebuke to Saracens for claiming they were acting in a ‘caring’ manner towards their players.
‘I think it was hogwash,’ he said. ‘The arrangements they entered into were not a comprehensive program affecting a significant proportion of their squad. They were very much focused on three or four very high profile, already relatively well-paid players. To try to suggest that this was equivalent to some boy scouts’ gesture — playing on the heartstrings of short careers, high injury risks and preparing people for the future… I think that’s a load of hogwash.’
IT t akes a l ot t o shock Lord Myners. As Gordon Brown’s City Minister, he famously thrashed out a multi-billion-pound rescue package during the 2008 financial crisis following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, over a takeaway curry. As chairman of Marks and Spencer he was known for darting between meetings in his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce and he fought off a takeover bid by Sir Philip Green.
So while the 71-year-old peer’s appointment to review the Premiership salary cap seemed relatively straightforward, he was still taken aback by some of t he cl ubs’ flagrant disregard for the rules.
I n his f i rst i nterview si nce publishing his 55-page report, which was unanimously approved by the clubs last week, Myners warned the sport that it must abolish its culture of secrecy and get up to speed with modern business practice.
‘When PRL asked me to conduct this review, they asked me to chair a committee but I said these things are better conducted by a single person,’ Myners told The Mail on Sunday. ‘ My only condition was that it was published in the court of public opinion. I didn’t want to be in a positon where the review was salami-sliced in private.
‘The clubs have to break out of the smoke-filled room approach, which has historically been their preferential fall-back position. Confidence and trust needs transparency.’
Myners has little background in rugby beyond playing during his schooldays at Truro College, yet over the course of several months he confidentially met with representatives from every club and exposed the sport’s gravest failings.
‘Was I surprised? Not in the sense that this is still a “business” coming to terms with having to be run in a more accountable and business-like way,’ said Myners.
‘I really enjoyed all my meetings with the owners, managers, directors of rugby, players. I’ve spent a lot of my time meeting a lot of boring dull people in the world of politics and business. The people I met were passionate and they care about the game. They were good people and they recognised what we were trying to do, but they didn’t trust their competitors.
‘We were in a situation where they would say, “I’m fully supportive of the cap but I’m not sure that everyone else is complying and that puts me in an awkward position”.
‘We had one manager of a club whose opening line in our interview was, “I’ve invented nearly all the ways of getting around the salary cap in the past and I’m very confident that, whatever you’ll recommend, I’ll still be able to find ways around it”. What shocked me was his pride at having done it. It was rather boastful. It led me to writing a paragraph in the report that if you think you can find lawyers to help you find loopholes then you are absolutely missing the point.
‘I acknowledge that no cap offers absolute watertight security but you can make it a whole lot more difficult and increase the probability of getting caught.
‘The key here is that the consequences of breaking the cap had never really mattered to the very rich, entrepreneurial types who tend to buy sporting clubs. If it doesn’t hurt them in the pocket, etcetera, they wouldn’t take them seriously. If you’re a self-made man like Nigel Wray, you are accustomed to making strong, confident decisions without having to go through a process of standing back and not doing what you want.
‘ There’s a transition going on. Making the sanctions very real was at the heart of my recommendations.’
In the early stages of the investigation, Saracens defended their co- investment approach, which resulted in relegation and a £ 5.36million fine. Their stance centred on ‘caring’ and long-term development for players but Myners is cuttingly dismissive.
‘The arrangements they entered into were not a comprehensive programme affecting a significant proportion of their squad. They were very much focused on three or four very high-profile, already relatively well-paid players.
‘To try to suggest that this was equivalent to some boy scouts’ gesture — playing on the heartstrings of short careers, high injury risks and preparing people for t he future... there was nothing in the arrangements which could be described as practical lessons in business for the future. I think that’s a load of hogwash.’
Subsequently, Myners proposed measures including clubs being stripped of titles and players being suspended. He stopped short of specifying a level for the salary cap, which stands at £7m plus two marquee players. ‘If my terms had included recommending the level of the cap, that is the only thing people would have focused on, unless I put in some salacious gossip for a bit of headline attraction.
‘Rugby is a small business. The total income of all Premiership rugby teams in England is about the same as a middling club in the first division of football. I think it would be better for all concerned if the game could be less dependent on the kindness of owners.
‘It’s interesting to hear Stephen Lansdown at Bristol… 10 years ago, Bristol’s owner gave up. I don’t think that any of the current owners will be inclined to give up but it’s not a good model when you do your budgets for the year and you just see another significant loss.
‘Do I think professional rugby will ever be a significant profit-maker for owners? No, I don’t, because I don’t think most of the owners are in it to make profit. But it would be better if individual clubs were able to break even. In the absence of a
Saracens’ deals were some boy scouts’ gesture to prepare players for the future? Hogwash!
cap, the industry will never be financially stable.
‘For a transparency point, what I have said is that they should explain their decisions when they do make changes to the cap. They’d be pretty hard pushed over the last two or three years to have reconciled their salary cap recommendations with the financial status of the clubs.
‘The concept of marquee players doesn’t sit comfortably with the idea of the salary cap.
‘ I was i nvolved i n an opera company as a director. What I learnt about opera and classical music is that whenever you had a surge in income, it didn’t trickle down to members of the chorus.
‘The big names simply command higher fees. The same would happen in sport. I see no reason why a wellmanaged Premiership should not be the most attractive place in the world for talented players.’
Myners’ investigations shone a light on other issues rugby is facing. ‘I only asked for a pound for this report but I put a serious amount of time into this because I’m very curious,’ he said. ‘ I’m worried about the future of club rugby below the Premiership, I’m worried about whether the Championship is as strong as it should be,
‘I’m worried about the women’s game, I’m worried about some of the challenges facing the RFU.
‘The RFU challenge is its seriously dangerous reliance on the national side and the elite game. If you look at this as I do, as an ordinary businessman, one of the things you look at is business concentration risk.
‘You look at it and say, “Wow, all your money is dependent on half a dozen games”. I think the RFU needs to stay alert and have a sense of purpose which supports the game at all levels.’
Myners’ recommendations will come into play in as soon as the 2020-21 season starts. ‘I told PRL I’ve done my report… that’s it,’ he concluded. ‘Other than a couple of courtesy calls with [Premiership chief executive] Darren Childs, I’ve had no further involvement.
‘One club very kindly approached me and said, “You’re the sort of person we should have as a nonexecutive director” but I left that one there. It has been a wonderful exercise and I’m delighted they have accepted 52 recommendations. I’ll be keeping an eye on them.’
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