Sweeteners lift netball's salary lid

The use of unlimited third-party payments in the ANZ Championship has led a prominent sports lawyer to label the salary cap as ineffective.

ANZ Championship general manager Anthony Everard revealed yesterday that there was no upper limit on payments to players outside the competition's cap of $300,000 a team.

"The competition rules do allow for additional benefits to be made available for players," Everard said.

"The cap is defined as to what those additional benefits can be, but there is no dollar amount attributed to those."

Such payments are defined as reasonable assistance from a franchise towards individual players' accommodation and travel costs, cars, mobile phones and laptop computers.

The benefits sweeten the deal for star players and may explain how the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic and the Southern Steel, who abide by the salary cap, can still attract so many Silver Ferns.

Wellington sports lawyer and former New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive David Rutherford said there was no way a "soft" cap like the one being used in the ANZ Championship could provide an even playing field.

"A hard salary cap like the NRL's captures all payments, but a soft salary cap doesn't capture all payments and therefore allows the wealthier teams to capture more talent," he said.

"A soft salary cap will, by definition, not achieve an even spread of talent, which this one isn't. [However] a hard salary cap is more likely to be challenged in the courts for restraint of trade."

Rutherford said that, in his opinion, the ANZ Championship was regulated by a soft cap, which was far more flexible than the versions seen in competitions such as rugby league's NRL.

Queensland Firebirds coach Vicki Wilson criticised New Zealand's teams this week as being lopsided, and questioned whether the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic were breaching the rules of the cap.

However, Everard stood behind the cap being used and was adamant it was spreading talent.

"Our priority is to have 10 competitive teams and, as long as that is the case, we think the competition rules are working," he said.

"At the moment we feel, after two rounds, we already have statistically closer games than last year. We feel we do have 10 competitive teams out there. There will always be some teams that are stronger than others and that will go in cycles."

He was satisfied all teams were playing by the rules. "It is something we take very seriously in terms of the salary cap and we have procedures in place to audit the teams."

The ANZ Championship board had the capacity to look at the rules during an end-of-season review, he said. "It would be a matter of tweaking things, rather than overhauling things, but it is too early to make those judgments.

"I don't think it's a matter of the number of international [Silver Ferns or Australian reps] players in a particular team. It is the competitiveness of the team on the court and I think we need to look at things over an extended period of time.

"Basing any changes on one season and two rounds is probably a little premature. We'd prefer to let this competition settle and wait to the end of the season to consider any changes."

The salary cap was introduced to regulate payments to players. TransTasman Netball Limited allows NZ$300,000 to be divided among the 12 contracted players, with a minimum payment of $12,000.

The Dominion Post