I started writing about rugby for the site In The Loose, before setting up my own thing. I’ve always considered myself to be fair, impartial and unbiased, in fact I try my hardest to think about the game first then my team.
Being a Saracens fan has tested that resolve since the news of their Salary Cap transgressions broke in November. But, again, I’ve tried my best to see things from all angles and to be fair. However the dramas of the last 10 days or so have left me wanting to have a bit of a rant.
There have been rumours, conjecture, leaks and fairytales. One such leak came on the Thursday before Saracens biggest game of the season in the Champions Cup. And that was that the club were to be relegated. And the whys? Because they refused to open their books for a mid season audit, or so the tale went. Now that, was pretty awful news for fans and of course even more so for those whose every day life relies on Saracens. There was news of an early morning meeting at Allianz Park for all staff, so that really did suggest this one was true!
Yet, there wasn’t an official announcement until the Saturday evening, that from PRL on the very eve of the Champions Cup game. I’ve included a key paragraph from that statement lower down.
A statement eventually came from Saracens as 10am on the Sunday morning, that, similarly brief missive came via email for us Season Ticket holders. StrangeIy I had a terrible sleep on the Saturday evening, and to make the point again, this is just my hobby, not my mortgage.
How did I feel about this latest news? To a degree I felt a sense of relief to go alongside my anger, disbelief and disappointment. I also felt quite confused as nowhere in the regulations was there a provision to relegate Saracens, or any other team.
Amongst all this angst Nigel Wray resigned from his Directorship, having earlier in the month resigned as Chairman. That will have made certain people happy, it made me feel sad, Saracens have been a passion for this man for many, many years.
Saracens then went out on the Sunday after this bomb landed and put in an outstanding performance that sees them progress to the knock out stages of the Champions Cup.
The biggest issue I and many, many others across the rugby world then had was that the original report was nowhere to be seen. A clamour started to call for its publication, According to PRL man Darren Childs it was Saracens who were refusing to let the report be published, that wasn’t how I’d heard things at all. A statement from the new Saracens Chairman, Neil Golding, made it clear Saracens were happy to share. So, what did we get? You guessed it – A LEAK!
Sky Sports published details of the report from Lord Dyson, and I do mean details. Not only were there figures, but also names! The General Data Protection Regulation has been the bane of many an organisations structures, yet here Sky Sports blatantly put out personal information for all to see! I hope someone, somewhere is in a lot of trouble for that!
The report is 103 pages long and includes lots of black lines where those names are redacted, it of course, took the PRL until the next day to actually issue the report. It’s a complicated tome, and one to read at length some time. What is plain from skimming through is that many things were open to interpretation, but that Rt Hon Lord Dyson and his 2 colleagues agreed with Andrew Rodgers take on things. Saracens were therefore deemed to be guilty of breaking the Salary Cap regulations for 2 years by 3 of the best legal minds in the country, that we cannot argue with. The report states the breaches were for 2016/17 and 2018/19 not three years as widely reported.
I now quote Paragraph 8 of the Summary of the Panel’s decision.
Despite its refusal under Regulation 12.4=3 (d) to reduce the starting point specified for a points sanction, the Panel has exercised its discretion under Regulation 14.2, in effect, to halve the points sanction by making the two sanctions of 35 points concurrent with each other . It has taken this course because it recognises that a total of 70 points would almost certainly mean Saracens would be relegated from the Premiership to the Championship. The Panel has concluded that such a result would not be within the spirit and underlying purpose of the Regulation 2.2 objectives in an appropriate and proportionate manner
This was the decision of the 3 legal minds, but less than 3 months after publication Saracens were straight relegated, who knows the whys and wherefores, a statement sent to fans from Chairman Golding sheds some light –
We carefully considered the option of a full investigatory audit. However, that inevitably would have involved a long period of more financial and emotional strain and this in turn meant this was not a viable option for us. We therefore agreed with PRL on relegation in the hope that we could draw a line under the mistakes made by Saracens with respect to compliance with the regulations and concentrate on putting our new robust procedures in place.
And so as fans we could look forward to visiting new grounds and meeting new people, the Six Nations was less than 2 weeks ago, we could get back to the rugby! But, no, there was more to come!
The PRL, I think they got in first, announced that Saracens would be deducted a further 70 points and that 2 key regulations had been added to justify that. Governance was a huge part of my role as School Business Manager, we certainly reviewed policies on a regular basis, but we never changed them to fit in with actions taken. The quote below is from the PRL Statement on Saracens relegation – they’ve rather pre-empted Lord Myners’ task!
“At the same time as enforcing the existing regulations, we want to ensure a level playing field for all clubs in the future, which is why we have asked Lord Myners to carry out an independently-led review of the Salary Cap. As part of this process, we will soon be announcing an open consultation so that everyone involved in the game has the opportunity to contribute to its future.
Another quote from the same statement – I don’t know about you but my confidence in the governance of the league is not in a good place at all!
“The actions that we have taken – dealing with breaches of the current regulations and reviewing the system for the future – will help us to build a stronger league and uphold the confidence of supporters.”
There’s a famous scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which I’ve happily shared on Twitter several times in the last week – it contains the line – ‘He’s making it up as he goes along” . Funny and oh so apt! It really does feel like the lunatics have taken over the asylum!
Me too it seems – I was going to write about the Harlequins v Saracens match here, but I’ve got rather carried away, that will come later, but the mention has reminded me that allegedly Quins provided some of the information that led to the initial investigations, just what does Mr Rogers do? I must stop now, got a match to write up!