European club champ Saracens penalized for financial doping

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LONDON — English and European champion Saracens was docked 35 points and fined $6.9 million on Tuesday for multiple breaches of Premiership Rugby’s salary cap regulations.

Club chairman Nigel Wray said they intended to appeal, which would delay the sanctions.

An independent panel led by John Dyson, a former judge, found the London-based club failed to disclose payments to players in each of the 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19 seasons, and exceeded the ceiling for payments to senior players. Saracens won the European Cup in 2017, the Premiership in 2018, and both this year.

The panel was established after a nine-month Premiership Rugby investigation led to charges being brought in June. The panel upheld all the charges.

Saracens had six players in the starting XV and another in the reserves for England in the Rugby World Cup final last Saturday, including captain Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, and Billy Vunipola. Another Saracen opposed them, South Africa prop Vincent Koch. Other stars for the club include Wales fullback Liam Williams, Scotland wing Sean Maitland, and United States prop Titi Lamositele.

“This is absolutely devastating for everyone associated with this amazing group of players, staff, partners, and fans,” Wray said in a statement.

“It has been acknowledged by the panel that we never deliberately sought to mislead anyone or breach the cap and that’s why it feels like the rug is being completely pulled out from under our feet. We will appeal all the findings.”

The cap was increased from 6.5 million pounds to 7 million pounds before the 2017-18 season.

A separate statement from the club defended the use of co-investment arrangements with players, and stated “PRL precedent already exists whereby co-investments have not been deemed part of salary in the regulations.”

The club admitted some administrative errors had been made that led to some transactions not being disclosed to Premiership Rugby, and apologized for those errors.

However, it added: “It is the club’s belief that the panel’s narrow interpretation of the regulations is detrimental to player welfare across the league and is damaging the development of elite level rugby in the UK.”

Saracens has been the most successful English side of the last decade, winning five Premiership titles since 2011.

In February, Harlequins was fined 6,239.50 pounds after exceeding the Premiership salary cap in the 2017-18 season by 12,479 pounds.