Whelan calls for top-flight salary cap

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The Independent Football

Significantly, in a week when the debate about dwindling crowds continues to rage, Whelan said that he already has the support of some other Premiership chairmen.

The Premier League has always resisted the notion of salary capping but, with an emergency meeting scheduled for next month to explore the reasons for falling crowds - TV games, high prices and lack of genuine competition for the title are all being blamed - the issue seems certain to return to the agenda.

A Premier League spokesman said last night: "We are open-minded on this issue but very sceptical that a workable system can be found or implemented."

Whelan said: "I know for a fact that the chairmen of Blackburn Rovers, West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland and Charlton Athletic - along with many more - support my views, so let's see it happen sooner rather than later."

Whelan cannot be accused of calling for a cap simply because Wigan have joined the Premiership and face an inevitable battle with bigger, wealthier opponents to stay up. As the owner of Wigan rugby league club, he already operates in another sport where salary capping (a ceiling on total expenditure on wages, rather than limits on any individual's pay) is in place, and he has previously called for a cap in football.

"There's only one way to guarantee healthy competition in the Premiership, and that's why I'm calling for a salary cap to be enforced in the top flight," he said. "I'm not knocking Chelsea, but if they continue dominating and win the title for another three or four years, then the entire Premier League runs the risk of being ruined.

"Too many clubs would be left simply making up the numbers by a one-club monopoly. Rugby league has seen the benefits of enforcing a salary cap and soccer should take note."

Wigan won rugby league's Challenge Cup for eight years in a row, and Whelan acknowledged that one side's dominance can damage a sport. "The interest [in rugby league] fell away and football could go the same way if we aren't careful," he said.

The 2005 salary cap in Super League prevents clubs from spending more than £1.7m in total on players' salaries, leading to typical annual salaries of £40,000-50,000 per player, although star players earn much more.

"There's no question that it keeps things under control," a Super League spokesman said. "And it also means that one club is unlikely to be able to have all the best players."

Whelan continued: "It makes sense to see a £25m or £30m limit on [Premiership] wages [per club] in order to guarantee healthy competition."

Whelan said increased interest in rugby league - as evidenced by rising attendances - was one of the benefits of the salary cap, which could be said to have increased competitiveness.

"Rugby crowds have come back, but now football's attendances are being hit," Whelan said. "If we don't look at our finances, our great game will have major problems."

English football already has a little-known salary cap, operational for two years in League Two, and for a year in League One. It was introduced - and continues to run - on a voluntary basis, with the aim being to help clubs to stay solvent.

Clubs in those divisions cannot spend more than 60 per cent of their annual income on players' wages, and no more than 75 per cent on all salaries. The Football League has no legal recourse to sanctions but scrutinises accounts to make sure that clubs are staying within their limits.

"The philosophy behind this was 'Don't spend more than you earn'," a Football League spokesman said yesterday. "It's been incredibly successful so far. The clubs actually seem comfortable with the idea that they're being encouraged to be prudent."

There are no plans to introduce a cap, yet, in the Championship, where it would likely be resisted by chairmen wanting to spend heavily in a gamble to reach the Premiership.

If the cap fits: Other sports where salary limits work

RUGBY LEAGUE
Super League Clubs are limited to spending a set amount on total wages each season. A cap has been in place 10 years and the 2005 salary cap is £1.7m. "We get the odd whinge, but only twice have we had to act over infringement and it's been a positive thing," a Super League spokesman said.

FOOTBALL
League One, League Two. The Football League introduced a voluntary salary cap in League Two two seasons ago, and expanded it to League One last year. Clubs cannot spend more than 60 per cent of their income on players' salaries. The aim is to encourage financial prudence. The system is working well.

AMERICAN FOOTBALL
The NFL has a "hard cap" system, where no team can spend more than a set amount per year - $85m (£47m) in 2005 - on total wages. It is enforced, with financial penalties for breaches shared out among other teams. The system, overall, significantly levels the playing field.

BASKETBALL
The NBA operates a "soft cap" system, with a fixed annual limit to total wages ($46m in 2004-05) but the rules can be bent to allow wage increases for players who stay a long time at one team. There is a flawed financial penalty system, but signing restrictions can be applied.

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