The Australian Rugby Union will investigate claims that one of its Super Rugby provinces is involved in an elaborate scheme to avoid salary-cap restrictions.
The Sun-Herald yesterday revealed that a player in an Australian franchise is involved in a scheme in which his province does not pay him directly. Instead, the player's club invoices the province for ''ground hire''.
The province pays the amount in cash to the club, which passes it on to the player. By using this scheme, the player's full earnings do not appear in the province's salary list. Instead a dramatically smaller figure is used in the official salary list.
Sources told the Sun-Herald this scheme was used as a way for the player to avoid paying taxation. It is understood a second club in the same province could also be using the ground hire scheme for one of its leading players.
The ARU was yesterday concerned that the yet unnamed province was trying to avoid detection, and described it as a blatant attempt to overcome salary-cap restrictions. The Sun-Herald has been told an Australian province was recently involved in organising a team sponsorship deal, in which the lucrative funds were instead funnelled straight to just one player, who, if he did not get a salary rise, was threatening to leave.
"We need to look into these claims and we will definitely be making the appropriate inquiries," an ARU spokesman said last night.
The ARU confirmed the chief executive officers of the five Australian provinces have to sign a statutory declaration each year declaring that ''everything involving their player salaries is above board''.
If a chief executive is then found to have deliberately misled the ARU, the governing body can institute strict penalties, including large fines. The chief executive's position at the province could also be placed in jeopardy.
The issue will also be raised at an ARU summit meeting in Sydney on July 23, which will involve the chief executive officers and chairmen from the five Australian provinces. The meeting was organised in a bid to find peace between the ARU and three of the provinces.
The ARU has countless critics at the Waratahs, Rebels and Force franchises; officials from these three provinces make it known through their lack of support for several national body initiatives. Several officials from these provinces are actively working to diminish the power base of ARU chief executive John O'Neill.
To try to ascertain what the provinces' exact problems are, the ARU chairman, Michael Hawker has called the meeting as basically a ''put up or shut up'' session.
Complaints from the provinces include a perceived lack of funding, problems with the youth academy scheme and a belief that they are unfairly dealt with by some ARU officials.
There also remains uncertainty over when the Force will name a new head coach, as favourite Michael Cheika is scheduled to knock back their offer.
With Cheika understood to have concerns about the motives of some Force officials, speculation continues to swirl that Waratahs coach Michael Foley might soon be headed to Perth to take over the role from Richard Graham, who has left for the Reds.
Foley was recently approached by a Force senior player, querying whether he was interested in leaving the Waratahs to be their head coach next year. Chris Webb, who has resigned as Waratahs team manager, has also been connected to the Force.
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