Premiership Rugby has rejected any suggestion that other leading clubs may be breaching the salary cap following Saracens’ relegation to the Championship. The chief executive, Darren Childs, has acknowledged, however, that the champions’ repeated financial misconduct has tarnished the league and unfairly impacted on their rivals.
In his first interview since the news of Saracens’ demotion was confirmed last weekend, Childs described the club’s serial cheating of the regulations as “a dark cloud” hanging over the Premiership.
He said he would prefer to see Lord Dyson’s initial report into the Saracens affair made public and is adamant the rest of the Premiership is complying with the cap.
“I’ve asked our salary-cap manager that question a dozen times now and there is no current investigation or anything else he is looking at,” said Childs, who joined Premiership Rugby last year from UKTV. “All the other clubs are compliant and feel really let down by all this.
“I get the fact they feel let down. The salary cap is the right thing to have and they have all signed up to it. I’ve sat in a box and watched a club lose to a side where there’s a question mark as to whether they are compliant or not.
“The emotion is palpable. Everyone wants a level playing field. It’s not about rigging the system in your favour and winning at any cost.”
To help restore trust, Childs indicated he would like to see the report into Saracens’ cap-busting behaviour released in full, rather than withheld at the request of Saracens’ lawyers, and would like the club to reconsider its stance.
“Premiership Rugby has got absolutely nothing to hide in that judgment. In fact, quite the opposite. It demonstrates we’ve got a good, well-enforced, fair salary-cap system. I must admit I am very minded to take that decision on again and look at whether we should be publishing these things. I would welcome the opportunity to set the record straight.
“It is very important to stress that we have specifically not been given that permission. We cannot publish Lord Dyson’s full decision regardless of what anyone would like us to do. Saracens are not supportive of that document being published.
“It was very much their lawyers’ decision that it should remain confidential. Why wouldn’t they want it published? That’s a question for them. But if they’re prepared to change their mind I would be prepared to discuss it with my board with a view to publishing it.”
Childs also remains frustrated by the widespread belief that Premiership Rugby should have clamped down more swiftly on Saracens’ wrongdoing, defended as mere “naivety” by their former chairman Nigel Wray.
“It’s been complex and important to get right,” Childs said. “After a number of conversations with Saracens over the last four to six weeks it became inevitable relegation was the right measure to take.
“It couldn’t wait until the end of the season. We needed to crack on. A lot of people are pointing the finger at us, which is a bit tough to take, but we’re trying to keep people on a level playing field. I don’t think the existing regulations are at fault. The regs have not cheated.”
Those running the league are also sensitive to the reputational damage to the sport and Childs has confirmed that, had they not accepted relegation, Saracens would have been required to open their books to show exactly how they remunerated a squad who have won three of the past four European titles and five domestic titles in the past decade.
“It would have been inevitable that we would have started a forensic audit imminently had we not reached this agreement,” Childs said.
“I want a dynamic, competitive tournament that people up and down the country can enjoy knowing their side has got a chance of winning. I’m not going to turn a blind eye to this stuff. I will enforce the rules and regulations to the absolute letter of the law. I’m trying to make sure this never happens again.
“It has been a massive distraction for us but I hope one day we get some acknowledgement that we dealt with it in a robust way.
“It would also be nice to talk about what is happening on the pitch rather than in the boardroom.”
Any changes to the salary-cap regulations, such as making players’ salaries public, are to be considered in a detailed review by Lord Myners, with an initial consultation period to commence this week.
“I realised there were a number of things that should be looked at and I also want a more open approach in the future,” said Childs, insisting the new commercial shareholders CVC were fully supportive of Saracens’ demotion.
In the meantime he hopes the spectacle will not be diminished by the fact the relegation picture has already been settled.
“We’ve got assurances from Saracens that they will maintain the integrity of the tournament until the end of the season before they go down into the Championship.
“I think they are going to want to go out and put their best foot forward – there are some fascinating games still to come. The fan is crucial to this industry and that’s the bit that makes me sad. That is not something we take lightly.”