The Super League champions have also been fined £5,000
Wigan Warriors have been deducted two points for the 2019 Betfred Super League season and fined £5,000, half of it suspended, after being found guilty of breaches of the salary cap in 2017 in relation to six separate payments, totalling £14,700.
The decision was made by an independent tribunal on Thursday afternoon, chaired by His Honour Rodney Grant, with two former players as side members.
Wigan were charged with alleged breaches in late 2018, following the audit of the 2017 salary cap, in relation to a number of payments that were not declared to the RFL. These included the payment of agents fees and a flight allowance, with the Club breaching the finite salary cap when these payments were included.
They initially disputed that these payments were relevant to the salary cap, leading to the establishment of the independent tribunal.
The club then admitted prior to the tribunal that all but one of the payments should have been included in its salary cap valuation for the season.
There is a right to appeal this decision, as set out within the RFL Operational Rules.
Wigan have released the following statement:
At an RFL Tribunal held on January 24th, Wigan Warriors acknowledged a Salary Cap breach of £14,700 in the 2017 season compared with a salary cap of £1,825,000. The Tribunal fined Wigan £5,000 (£2,500 suspended) with a Super League Competition deduction of two-points for the 2018 season.
The breach was for a 22-week period of a 36-week season and ranged from £12,700 to £14,700 maximum through the period. No breach occurred during the rest of the season.
The breach represented Wigan being at 100.80% of the salary cap – less than 101%.
The breach was an administrative error arising from six small invoices of between £2000 and £3000 for Agents’ fees which were overlooked by a new administrative team after Finance Department restructuring in January 2017. The mistakes coincided with an unprecedented sequence of injuries demanding multiple salary cap administration changes and dispensation applications.
The genuine nature of the disruption is shown by the fact that eight young Academy players played 51 times in the Wigan First Team through this period, including six debutants who played 42 times.
Wigan gained no competitive advantage during this period of breach losing six games in succession at one stage. Wigan finished the season in 6th place and out of the Playoffs, their worst performance since 2006. The breach can be seen to have had no impact on the balance of the Super League competition.
When the query arose from the RFL retrospective audit in 2018, Wigan responded by disclosing all accounting records fully and transparently to the RFL investigating team. When formally charged, Wigan’s first formal response to the charges was to admit them as breaches caused by administrative error and disruptive mitigating circumstances.
At no stage did Wigan respond to the charges with a not-guilty response.
Wigan were not offered an Agreed Decision by the RFL, as expected in the rules, before the Tribunal was arranged. Had this been offered earlier in the process, as provided for in the RFL Rules & Regulations, Wigan would have had the opportunity to research precedents and would almost certainly have accepted an Agreed Decision involving no points deduction, as offered at the last minute at the door of the Tribunal but with a substantial fine and costs.
The RFL legal team at the Tribunal represented the breaches as “serious” on a scale from “minor” to “serious” to “exceptional” in requesting a serious penalty from the Tribunal and cited Wigan’s breaches in 2004 (2 points deduction) and 2005 (4 points deduction) as relevant to consider.
Wigan Chairman, Ian Lenagan, commented: “Throughout this process, Wigan has been fully cooperative and transparent with no suggestion of concealment or deception and acceptance formally of the breach. This is not an integrity or dishonesty issue, purely an administrative error by a new financial team in an exceptionally busy and disruptive circumstance”.
“This breach clearly did not affect the competitive balance of the competition in 2017 yet the immediate deduction of two-points does affect the competitive balance of the competition in 2019.
“I take full responsibility for an admitted breach by Wigan and apologise unreservedly for the error and accept a fine is justified.
“However, in my experience of working in sport and sports governance, a points deduction is the last resort as a sanction for a significant level of breach. I am surprised that Wigan has been handed down a points-deduction sanction for such a marginal offence. Wigan will appeal against that aspect of the penalty.
Wigan Executive Director, Kris Radlinski commented: “I apologise fully to everyone for the breach by Wigan but feel the points deduction is disproportionate to the level of breach. It has a significant effect on players, fans and the competitive balance of the season and is not consistent with the sanctions in other sports.