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Saracens salary cap breach: what happens next?

Posted: 07/11/2019

From international to domestic, rugby is back in the headlines as Saracens Rugby Club was fined £5.36 million and docked 35 points in the Premiership for breaching the Premiership Rugby Salary Cap.

The salary cap has been in place since 1999. Premiership Rugby’s website states that the purpose of the cap is to ‘ensure the financial viability of all clubs and the Gallagher Premiership Rugby competition, to control inflationary pressures on clubs’ costs, and to provide a level playing field for clubs to ensure a competitive Gallagher Premiership Rugby competition’.

An independent panel, made up of the Rt Hon Lord Dyson, Aidan Robertson QC and Jeremy Summers, had conducted a five day hearing in September and October. It was asked to consider the charges brought by Premiership Rugby, which relate to the conduct of Saracens during the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. This followed a nine month investigation into Saracens by Premiership Rugby.

The panel upheld all the charges. Specifically, that Saracens failed to disclose payments to players in each of the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons and exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players. Regulation 14.3(c) states that the points deduction may be imposed in the current season only.

Under Regulation 13, Saracens does have the ability to seek a review of the panel’s decision by referring it to an arbitration body. However, Regulation 13.2 stipulates that any review ‘shall not operate as an appeal of a decision’. Therefore, the review can only be on the following basis:

  • there was an error of law;
  • the decision was irrational; or
  • there has been some procedural unfairness.

These conditions are narrow and very different to a full appeal of the decision. However, Saracens has already stated that it will seek a review of the ruling. Therefore, the sanctions will be pending until the outcome of this review.

On the face of it, in applying the maximum points sanction, the panel has sought to make a clear example of Saracens for not adhering to the rules. However, some commentators feel the sanction does not go far enough and have suggested that Saracens should be relegated from the league. Whether Saracens succeeds in its review or not, given the panel’s findings, a further consideration for other Premiership rugby clubs is whether they have any legal recourse against Saracens.

All eyes will now turn to the review of the decision and what happens next.

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