Off-topic: How salary caps are not the answer to fair play

I’ve been down under for just over a month now and during that time it got out in the open that one of the best National Rugby League teams, the Melbourne Storm, has breached a ‘salary cap’ and they have been punished by the takeaway of their 2007 and 2009 titles, as well as a financial punishment of $500000 and all their 2010 points being wiped.

Today, however, they won 40-6, so they are on their way back anyway. But more important, as this is a huge news item Down Under, let’s investigate on what really happened.

Rugby is a sport that’s being played world wide. Not many outstanders would know this, but Rugby is divided into two variations, Rugby League and Rugby Union. Rugby Union is the variant played by most teams in the Netherlands, it’s the variant that has the scrimmage etc… Rugby League however is a fast packed action variant which doesn’t compare to most TV sports I’ve seen except for NHL icehockey or NBA basketball. I’ve played American Football myself, and even though I love the sport, actionwise it just doesn’t compare to the previously named leagues. These are sports that go on and on with only a half-time break.

‘Round here, there are 3 sports that make it to the tube, right now it’s not the cricket season, so it’s either AFL or NRL. I’ve been watching both and I’ve got to say, although the AFL boys pass the ball with their hands, it’s probably closer to European Football (soccer) when it comes down to the rules, than to rugby. NRL is the National Rugby League and down here, being a rugby player is probably the next best thing to being a God.

What I didn’t know is that there is a salary cap for the teams. So there is a rule that there’s a maximum you can pay a player. I reckon this rule is in effect to get evenly matched teams because no team is allowed to pay more than max to a specific player. And as you can have only about 20 players you’ll know the players won’t cost more than 20*cap. I guess the general idea is that if you’re player 21, you’d rather play with another team just to get that cap.

I just don’t get that. Imposing such cap would in my eyes inevitably end up with a system that circumvents the cap in many ways. Free use of this, free use of that, we all know there are many posibilites outside of a contract that will make it worth your while. Everyday free dinner at KFC, Maccas or Hungry Jacks may not add to much, it’s free. And this is exactly what happend with one of the biggest teams here, the Melbourne Storm. And now that’s in the open, the team has lost their last 2 championships as well as all their points in the 2010 season. But it’s not only them that are being robbed.

It’s the NRL itself as well. By setting a cap on salary, the only thing you can be sure of is that players will leave your competition to join the one that is paying whatever you are worth. Imposing a salary cap only makes the merchandise boys richer and richer while you won’t get any of that because, you, as a player, are capped. Australian NRL players will probably flee to the UK and other Rugby countries when their marketing value rises. Salary caps won’t keep the competition here, actually, it might just lead the league to a diminished state. Why?

Soccer doesn’t have salary caps. Did it grow out of hands? Some national soccer organisations would think so, but, does the money in soccer not flow to those who are eligible to receive it? I think it does. David Beckham still is the highest payed soccer player in the world. Although he isn’t the best (anymore, he still bends’m like only he can), he’s the one that balances his marketing value and playing value best. Messi should perhaps be the most valuable player in the world, but he needs a marketing lesson from David. However, in both cases, the money flows to them personally, not to the league they happen to play in.

I come from the Netherlands and we’ve blessed the world with a lot of great players and probably none of them play in the Dutch league. The team that will participate in the 2010 world championships mainly consists of our foreign boys, some from the Premiership, some from the Spanish or Italian competion and a few playing in Germany. If we had capped them in Holland and kept them all, I don’t think we’d even have qualified for WC2010. No, they followed the money and play in the best competions the world has because they are obviously worth it.

Does it seem strange that these salaries are more a week than a thousand times the money the poor bring in in a year? Yeah, that may hurt, but do not forget that somebody, somewhere, pays for it. And if they don’t collect it themselves, some company does. And I don’t think those companies will give it back the way our sport heroes do. As a last example, the Cruijff Foundation has done more for suburban sports than the Dutch government has in years.

So, salary caps aren’t a solution. They’ll just make the companies richer whilest they should have payed the player who may eventually set up a foundation that will actually help local sports. I’m pretty sure no company will. Ever. And remember, if it can be payed, it’s obviously worth it. There wouldn’t have been a salary cap scandal down under if there wasn’t a profit to be made. Sports is more than what’s happening on the playing field. There’s a multi-million dollar merchandising machine behind it all. Don’t let them take it all.

so, cut the cap 😉

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