Paris (AFP)

Fairness of competition or flight of talent? Consolidation of accounts or financial tinkering? The "salary cap", established in 2010 in the Top 14, is still debated in French rugby while discussions are underway to lower it.

- How it works ? -

The "salary cap" was launched in 2010 "to avoid wage inflation and an imbalance in the championship". The presidents have decided to cap the payroll of the clubs to preserve the fairness of the championship: its amount is now set at 11.3 million euros.

"With the salary cap, the Top 14 remains a homogeneous and exciting championship until the end," promises the LNR.

In its first season, the salary ceiling was set at 8.1 million euros. If it has climbed in recent years, the leaders of professional rugby last week recorded a gradual decline "by 12% in four years". A "relative and graduated" drop, which will start in September 2021 and allow clubs to cope with the crisis linked to the pandemic.

- What positive impact? -

In spirit, the "salary cap" therefore avoids an uncontrolled escalation of wages. For a championship that lives beyond its means, with clubs that spend more than they earn, this is an essential element for preserving the fairness of the competition.

The proof? Since its establishment, only the Toulouse stadium has retained its title. It was during the first two controlled seasons: 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. The two Castres titles (2013 and 2018) tend to prove that you don't have to have the biggest payroll to raise the Brennus.

The list of contenders for the title of champion, like that of candidates for European places, has also grown. For the past ten years, Toulouse, Racing 92, Castres, Clermont, Biarritz, Montpellier, Toulon, Perpignan, Stade Français, Oyonnax, Bordeaux-Bègles and Lyon have thus competed in the European Cup.

- What perverse effects? -

"There are people who hijack it because they have groups that allow it to be hijacked. The salary cap is a huge masquerade where the most virtuous cheat." The release dates from a little over a year ago and was signed by Mourad Boudjellal, then president of RC Toulon.

In France, Racing 92, Toulon and Montpellier were thus fined by the LNR's disciplinary committee. Boudjellal was also a pleasure to explain how to circumvent the regulation by methods bordering on the legality (tax havens, bitcoins, image rights of players ...).

Faced with this salary framework, some stars shun the Top 14: the Fijian Semi Radradra thus left Bordeaux-Bègles this summer for Bristol, doubling his salary, now estimated at more than a million euros.

The payroll in England is indeed capped at 8.15 million euros but Premiership clubs can extract two "marquee players" from the calculation. So many stars to attract.

"The new El Dorado for players in the southern hemisphere is Japan. Geographically, it's close to New Zealand, Australia ... and they pay very well: the clubs are backed by big companies like Panasonic, Toyota, Toshiba, Honda ... ", adds a French agent about a championship which has just attracted the best player in the world Beauden Barrett but also the former All Blacks captain Kieran Read or the ex-scrum half of Clermont and Scotland Greig Laidlaw.

© 2020 AFP