There are weeks – and this has been another – when the rugby union is on a dangerous tightrope. On the other side of the canyon, there is potential land in abundance, but a false move can have dire consequences. With the realities of the post-coronavirus economy also starting to develop, the sport needs calm and rational advice like never before.
That is why the advice of a 72-year-old Cornishman with little connection before the professional game needs to be followed. Before compiling his insightful report on the Saracens' salary case, Paul Myners was city minister under Gordon Brown. He was also former president of the Guardian Media Group and Tate, which, if nothing else, indicates an ability to look beyond the narrow horizons of corporate greed.
This whole experience – and many recent conversations with all the major players in English rugby – led to several clear conclusions. Last month, clubs unanimously signed its 52 recommendations to enforce wage cap regulations and prevent a Saracen-type scandal from happening again. Premiership Rugby and its private equity sponsors, CVC Capital Partners, would do well to hear the new guidelines it has to offer.
At the top of the wish list, the PRL should have its own home in order, as it faces the threat of players taking legal action or possibly striking clubs that are trying to rush through permanent salary cuts. “There needs to be a review of the makeup and the balance of the PRL council. At the moment, it is essentially the clubs and the CVC. The executive director doesn't even have a vote. "The addition of three non-executive directors, he believes, would make a huge difference.
"Now is not a bad time to take a look at Premiership governance," he says. “What is missing from almost every rugby level is the presence of independent voices. We don't really have one in Premiership Rugby. I think that would lead to better decision making. Someone has to say: & # 39; What is good for the future of this game that we are passionate about? & # 39; This is the element that is currently missing. "
Accusations this week of certain clubs unduly pressuring players to re-sign reduced agreements and using Covid-19 as an excuse to change binding contracts also echoes the attitudes of “one rule for us, another for them” that emerged during the Saracen case. Lord Myners believes that a reduced salary cap would have happened independently, with the club's rugby currently living beyond his means. "I was not asked to comment on the level of the limit, but the numbers in my report raised big questions. Rugby is such a good sport and people love to play and watch. There will be a future, but if it is a future that can accommodate 100 Premiership players getting £ 300,000 or more a year is more debatable. "
His report also questioned the continuation of the funds granted to the national team players – "I just noticed that they seemed quite inconsistent with the facts, as I observed them and with the objective of equal financial competition" – which highlights the contrasting priorities of the richest clubs and poorer. “I spent a lot of time with almost all the owners. I really thought they were great people. But you have to be realistic. It is in the players' interest that the clubs are sustainable and do not depend on the unpredictability of an owner wanting, at the end of the season, to write another check. In-game employment will be safer if the business model is one that allows for profitability. "
In short, rugby needs to be mature enough to recognize that collaboration is the only way forward. Without further revenue, the cuts will be inevitable and Myners, although sympathetic to the players, fears that a strike will be dire for everyone. “Common sense would say that we need to sit down and have constructive and respectful discussions. It would be unwise for players to feel that they have been pushed into a situation where they need to attack. If you are an owner who has been wondering how long you want to keep writing annual checks, nothing is more likely to expose you than being exposed to industrial stocks. "
A little more self-awareness would also help. Rugby, in Myners' eyes, "is a tremendous sport, but it didn't sell very well." He says the RFU needs to modernize its overwhelmingly white board and politely suggests that the PRL should not have waited two full days before making public this week's reduction in the salary cap. "I'm certainly not saying that they fell on the Melling road, but my report said that when they made a change to the salary cap, they should explain the reasons and the logic. Everything is part of transparency and sharing, and people feel they are part of it. of the process. "
As for Premiership clubs looking for alternative loopholes to explore, Myners compares the revised salary cap regulations to medium-speed highway cameras. "It's about the spirit and the underlying principles. What I did was increase the likelihood that if you try to play fast and loose, you’ll be seen sooner. I’ll stretch my neck and say that I think compliance with the salary cap will be very high in the near future. ”
He has also detected a greater acceptance in the Saracens of the club's past indiscretions. "It will always be possible for people to say: & # 39; You have a great track record, but of course you succeeded in deceiving & # 39; & # 39 ;. I think they realize the futility of it, if that's where you end up. People who came to see me from the Saracens seemed to say that we need to move on to a new chapter, with a new team. The new president of the Saracens was very contrite.
In addition to helping with the Stadium for Cornwall project, Myners is not actively courting a prominent role in rugby. His vision for the game of English clubs must, however, still be fixed on all administrative walls. “What we want is a situation where we start each season with a serious belief that there are four, five or six teams that can win. Each match will be played closely, the scores will be closed and will provide an exciting viewer participation, an exciting television show and generate higher revenue. This must be the path to success that rugby must commit to. "