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Cain column: PRL secrecy is an insult to club rugby fans

PRL

IS Premiership Rugby fit for purpose? Is the governing body of the multi-million pound club game in England understaffed, overworked or just plain incompetent? I ask because on their  website, in the salary cap section, PRL trumpets the success of the league in providing a level playing field by pointing to ‘five different Premiership rugby champions in the last six years’.

Given that there have been only three champions in the most recent six year span, with Saracens winning four titles since 2014, and Exeter and Northampton claiming one each, it needs an urgent update.

You could argue the same applies to PRL’s claims in the ‘About Us’ section regarding ‘inclusivity’, and delivering for its partners and stakeholders, because many club rugby fans would seriously beg to differ.

Their reservations would extend to the PRL statement that their representatives on the Professional Game Group/Board work towards ‘the best long-term interests of the game in England’.

PRL claims it works side-by-side with its 13 stakeholder clubs (the 12 in the Premiership, plus Newcastle), and is responsible for, and responsible to, them.

That surely makes them responsible also to the fans who support those clubs, as well as to the fans who support Rugby Union throughout England – who expect the highest standards from the elite league in this country.

Instead, many fans could be forgiven for thinking that Premiership rugby treats them with disdain.

In recent weeks, The Rugby Paper’s postbox has been jammed with letters from fans taking issue with the lack of detail about the Saracens salary cap ruling, and the dangers that this lack of transparency could lead to.

The 145-word summary surrounding the most severe salary cap sanction in club Rugby Union history was always going to be viewed as a woefully inadequate explanation. This was exacerbated after Saracens owner Nigel Wray revealed that the judiciary panel said the club had ‘not deliberately sought to circumvent the regulations’ over three seasons from 2016 to 2019, but had been ‘reckless’.

The key factor behind the severity of the 35 points deduction and £5.36m fine appears to be one of non-disclosure to PRL’s salary cap authorities of the club’s joint ventures with leading players, despite them being registered for public scrutiny at Companies House.

This drip-drip of information subsequent to the ruling has added fuel to the fire. Yet, the culprits responsible for the lockdown on any detail relating to the hundred-plus page report being available are the Premiership clubs themselves.

This is because the Premiership clubs have attached confidentiality clauses to any deliberations concerning the salary cap. 

They have deliberately turned it into a no-go area, with the non-disclosure paranoia so profound that a PRL spokesperson confirmed that the only way the report can be viewed by the Premiership clubs is if they go to the PRL offices in London, or if they arrange for PRL administrators to visit them.

At the end of any visit the report, which can be read, but cannot be copied, goes back into PRL custody, to be kept under lock and key.

PRL

Clandestine nonsense of this sort is more befitting a secret society.

And it is in danger of holding our sport up to ridicule, especially when it obscures rather than clarifies overriding issues, such as whether Saracens are now within the salary cap.

This is the burning question most Premiership supporters want an answer to straightaway. They recognise that this season’s relegation battle could be a farce if Saracens fight their way clear, only to find that the relegated club appeals against the drop on the grounds that the convicted champions have not been made to prove they are under the £7m cap.

This explains why there have been calls from some clubs for Saracens to submit to a mid-season audit.

However, PRL, which has only one salary cap officer to audit all 13 clubs, is unable to verify whether or not this will happen – no doubt because of the confidentiality gag. This desire to keep the rugby public in the dark spreads to other areas.

It is, for example, highly unlikely we will find out what PRL does with the £5m fine paid over by Saracens. Nor was it ever announced that two years ago the Premiership clubs voted for a moratorium on salary cap infringements beyond a five year period, effectively exonerating each other from any offences between 1999 until c.2012.

The idea that a sport like Rugby Union should require its own Freedom of Information Act takes some digesting, but it might be the only solution.

Perhaps PRL should consider that any sport which relies on the public for support cannot afford to treat it with  contempt.

NICK CAIN

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