Sara­cens salary cap de­fence was HOG­WASH!

RE­VEALED The ‘proud boast’ of club boss that ex­posed rugby’s cul­ture of cheat­ing

The Mail on Sunday - - Sport - By Nik Si­mon

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.’

LEADER: Maro Itoje (left) has been short­listed to cap­tain the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions by coach War­ren Gat­land

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