The NRL salary cap is 4.1 million per club per year. The Storm, like all clubs, must juggle player purchases to fit under this amount. Many have been critical of how the Storm, with a team of champions, could meet NRL salary cap guidelines. It has been revealed that the club operated "two sets of books." One was the faked documents created for the NRL's salary cap auditor. The second was the real figures with $400 000 over in 2009 and $700 000 in 2010. In total, the Storm paid players $1.7 million over the cap in the past five years. These figures were concealed by Storm personnel.
In what has been described as some of the harshest penalties ever seen in world sport, the Storm have been stripped of their 2007 and 2009 premiership titles. Their 2006-2008 minor premierships have also been stripped. The prize money earned from these victories ($1.1 million) must be returned and the club must pay $500 000 in fines. On top of this, because the team still remains over the salary cap in 2010, they are banned from earning any points from the current NRL season.
The suggestion has also been made that the Storm's two most senior executives could face up to five years' jail and huge fines for their part. The club's senior players, along with their managers, are also likely to face scrutiny for breaches of various criminal and taxation laws.
When you stand and look at these penalties few could argue they could be harsher. NRL chief executive David Gallop said that salary cap breaches would not be tolerated, and hence the punishment must fit the crime. "They (Storm) had a long-term system of effectively two sets of books and the elaborate length they have gone through to cover this up has been extraordinary."
Melbourne Storm coach, Craig Bellamy, has described the past few days as "toughest" of his sporting career, as the NRL club comes to terms with stringent penalties. "Our greatest accomplishment and what we cherish most has been taken away by the harshest of penalties."
The penalties go further with the reputation of the Storm, the NRL, and sport as a whole tarnished. The new AAMI Park Stadium was to house the Storm's new office, but with the club's funding and support in doubt, this is being questioned.
The whole saga raises the issue of justice and mercy. Such a serious breach of rules requires justice. As Gallop explains, it cannot be tolerated. But should mercy be shown to the supporters, and mercy to a club that has been pivotal in breaking into the AFL heartland in Victoria? Is mercy needed to save the game's future? This debate will rage over the next few weeks.
The Bible also raises the same question of justice and mercy. To rebel against God and His loving will for our lives demands justice. It cannot be tolerated. But can't mercy be shown and people given a chance? We find the answer of justice and mercy met at the cross in Jesus' sacrificial death. Justice had to happen, and on the cross God dealt with sin by punishing Jesus. Mercy was shown on the cross by God taking our punishment and placing it on Jesus as a substitute. And Jesus' perfect standing before God was given to us as a merciful and loving gift. Only a just and merciful God could come up with a game plan like that.