French rugby chiefs have toughened their salary cap regulations following a court ruling in its favour.
Emboldened by a decision made by the country’s highest administrative court, the Ligue National de Rugby (LNR), which runs the professional game in France, has implemented a three-year player recruitment ban for the worst salary cap offenders.
The sanction comes into force with immediate effect.
The LNR announced the stringent new rules, made with the agreement of professional clubs, in a statement in which it welcomed a decision by the Conseil d’Etat to reject a bid by Top 14 club Montpellier to scrap the financial limit altogether.
The club had claimed the LNR’s salary cap laws violated three freedoms guaranteed by the French Constitution: Freedom of enterprise, freedom of contract and freedom of association.
But, in its ruling, the court said the cap — set at €11.3 million a year for clubs in the Top 14 until 2021 — was in line with the constitution, and “guarantee[d] the sporting equity of the championships, stability and good financial situation [of clubs].
“In so doing, the legislator [has] adopted, in the general interest, a measure which does not disproportionately infringe on freedom of contract or freedom of association and which has no impact on the freedom of association in sports matters,” the court ruled.
“The salary cap is a virtuous system, repeatedly praised by clubs, which gains in transparency from year to year, thanks to the cross-referencing of data and the control operations carried out by the salary cap manager,” the LNR’s director-general Emmanuel Escalier said after the ruling.
“The decision of the Conseil d’Etat allows this process to continue calmly and the LNR to continue to strengthen the control system.”
A few days before taking its case to the Conseil d’Etat, Montpellier, owned by Mohed Altrad, had successfully had an LNR fine of €400,000 for breaching salary cap rules cut to €120,000 for “failure to comply with transparency obligations” by the Appeals Commission of the Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR).
It was the second time in as many years that Montpellier had sanctions for alleged salary cap breaches overturned or reduced on appeal.
In 2017, a €70,000 fine and a one-match ground suspension imposed on the club after offensive banners were displayed during a match against Racing 92 were also controversially overturned.
The scandal that followed, in which the relationship between Altrad and FFR president Bernard Laporte was called into question, led to the resignation of several members of the appeals board.