English and European rugby champions Saracens will be relegated at the end of the season for breaching the salary cap rules, marking the downfall of what was the northern hemisphere's top club in recent years.
Premiership Rugby, which runs the English top tier, said Saturday that Saracens will finish the current season before being dropped down to the second-level RFU Championship.
The London-based club have won four of the past five English titles and three of the past four European Cup titles.
However, those victories were followed by allegations of rorting the English league's salary cap rules by making payments to companies owned by Saracens players.
"I acknowledge the club has made errors in the past and we unreservedly apologise for those mistakes," new new Saracens chairman Neil Golding said in a statement.
"I and the rest of the board are committed to overseeing stringent new governance measures to ensure regulatory compliance going forward."
Premiership Rugby would review the salary cap system to ensure "a level playing field for all clubs", chief executive Darren Childs said.
Exeter Chiefs were beaten by Saracens in the past two Premiership finals and chief executive Tony Rowe said he was relieved the champions had been strongly punished.
Confirmation. Saracens relegated. They’ll be playing in the Championship next season. Goodness me. What a mess. pic.twitter.com/4PN9GN4zG6— Nick Mullins (@andNickMullins) January 18, 2020
"(Saracens) had two choices: they could either open up their books so that Premiership Rugby could do a forensic audit of exactly what has gone on, or they could take relegation. So it was their choice not to open up their books," Rowe told the BBC.
"We just want to move on. They have cheated. And I'm just a bit upset it has taken so long to do this. At the moment they are still picking their team each week largely from the squad they had last year, which is still in breach of the salary cap."
Fans on social media were shocked at the announcement.
Saracens have been relegated.— Paul Williams (@thepaulwilliams) January 18, 2020
And rightly so.
Financial doping, at its most calculated.
There's no difference between them, Ben Johnson and Lance Armstrong.
And now, they have paid the ultimate sporting price.
Everything about this Saracens story stinks. What a shameful way to ‘win at all costs’. 👎 https://t.co/rSsZEHEAK3— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) January 18, 2020
Saracens’ English contingent
Saracens are bottom of the table. They are second in their European Champions Cup pool but could still qualify by beating Racing 92 on Sunday.
Saracens' sizeable England contingent, including national captain Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola, would still be available for international selection if they played in the Championship.
But it would be an unsatisfactory situation for England coach Eddie Jones, who is due to announce his Six Nations squad on Monday.
It now remains to be seen how many of Saracens' leading names will still be at the club next term.