Premiership Rugby will have access to WhatsApp messages, as well as players’ bank statements and tax returns, following the introduction of powerful powers aimed at catching salary cap cheats.
Following the Saracens scandal last season, a 67-page document of updated regulations outlines how PRL will take titles away from clubs that break the rules and win back the prize money. Premiership winners will undergo an expanded “forensic” audit while all clubs and their players will be exposed to stricter measures and more severe penalties.
The changes come after Lord Myners’ damning report, released in May, with all clubs unanimously accepting the recommendations for the new season, which begins on Friday. “Each year, the champion club will receive an expanded audit,” said Andrew Rogers, PRL salary cap manager. “This is a much more forensic audit, which includes checking club officers’ emails, text messages, WhatsApp messages from club officers, and reviewing at least 50% of the tax returns of all club officers. players, bank statements, and any other areas you think need to be examined. That is a real improvement.
“There is now a greater obligation for all participants to consult me and there is also a greater list of areas that need my prior approval, be it a player sponsorship agreement or a testimonial. There is a real emphasis on transparency. There are penalties for non-cooperation. “
The Saracens were champions for two of the three seasons in which they were found to be in breach of the salary cap, but while they will retain those titles, PRL now has the power to erase records. However, Rogers admitted that some clubs can still find ways to circumvent the rules.
“We are not a law enforcement agency, so of course there are limitations,” he said. “The key club officers have to sign a statement to say that they will comply with the regulations and report any infraction. The whistleblowing policy is there and available and players are required to provide tax returns. There will always be some elements, I’m sure, where someone quite smart will avoid it. “
PRL has also updated its Covid regulations in an effort to avoid the chaotic situation from last season when Sale’s match with Worcester was postponed due to an outbreak in the Sharks team, then canceled days later.
The governing body now has the power to rule out matches unilaterally, admitting that cancellations are almost inevitable given current levels of infection in England and the lack of space on the calendar to reschedule matches.
The league has also sought to introduce a fairer way to distribute points if games are canceled. While Worcester received five and Sale none in October, the former would now receive four and the Sharks two.
PRL rugby director Phil Winstanley said: “We don’t have the capacity to play midweek, that would have different impacts on different clubs, so all games can be postponed but will be played on the same weekend. Another fundamental principle is whether the league, unlike a club, has the ability to cancel a game. This was the heart of the problem at the beginning of the year. The conclusion we have reached is clearly for the safety of the players, coaches and officials, we have to have that ability. “
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