Saturday, 31 October 2015

Premiership Rugby's Salary Cap Secrecy Shames the Game

Unless you have been living in a cave, in a particularly nasty coma or live in Simon Cohen's household you’ll have heard this week about Premiership Rugby coming to a “settlement” with “some” clubs.  Many reports carry the figure of 2 clubs but, as with everything else, nothing is confirmed by Premiership Rugby and several clubs have issued denials with varying degrees of credibility.

McCafferty has been his usual elusive self in this situation, as slippery as an eel in jelly, he says “I am concerned at the nature of the speculation” and that people came “to an incorrect conclusion”.

What does he expect?  Does he seriously expect fans to say “Oh well it’s all jolly confusing and I couldn’t possibly understand such things.  Best leave it to the gargantuan intellects like McCafferty to sort out; he knows best.”

Fans by nature are speculative beasts.  What team is the coach going to pick? Are we going to win? Who are we going to sign? To expect them to simply swallow whatever you throw at them under the cover of “confidentiality” is rubbish.

Premiership Rugby is addicted to confidentiality.  For years they wouldn’t publish the salary cap regulations and it took a planning dispute over Saracens' new ground in Barnet for the “Minimum Standards Criteria” to see the light of day; despite them being used to deny Rotherham promotion and to try and deny London Welsh promotion.  They have now disappeared again into the long grass.

How much cash does each club get from Premiership Rugby in central funds?  No one knows as they won’t say.  How many “England Qualified Players” does each team officially select? No one knows despite clubs being financially rewarded for it.  At least with EQPs fans have a pretty good chance to be able to work it out.  How many season ticket holders does each club have? They never say.

It doesn’t have to be this way.   

Many people think French rugby is a wild west style Badlands where anything goes.  But every year the Ligue Nationale de Rugby publishes a report that openly details every one of those things.  Premier League football openly discloses how much it distributes to various clubs and why.

There is absolutely no need for this level of secrecy.  It only breeds suspicion because, frankly, if their financial distribution model IS fair why are they shy of sharing it?  If the Minimum Standards Criteria ARE sensible minimums why not publish them?  If teams AREN'T cheating the cap what do they have hide?   

The current issue appears to be over whether a player’s personal sponsorship deals are included in the cap or not.  McCafferty says “We are not talking about loopholes but access to information and whether certain commercial contracts should be included in the calculation or not, which is where the differing legal opinion came in.” 

There is no right answer here.  When Tigers were sponsored by Canterbury Thomas Waldrom had a personal deal with them at the same time.  He wore their boots, scrum cap and advertised their general clothes.  He was also used, I understand at Canterbury’s request, to model Tigers kits at that time.

Should Waldrom’s deal with Canterbury be included in Tigers salary cap for that season? It’s not clear cut at all.  If there are no restrictions then we have an open door for clubs to funnel money outside the cap (and also through a player’s personal services company to avoid tax), if we include all such deals then you could be forced over the cap by one of your star players switching boot providers.

Fans are not idiots.  We can all see that once you regulate salaries Pandora’s box opens and what is or is not included will always be subjective.  Premiership Rugby can say that and whilst we’d have a debate over where the lines are drawn their wouldn’t be this rotting smell emanating from Premiership Rugby.

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