Accord on TV rights may save rugby's Five Nations event

 

THE bitter and protracted dispute threatening the future of rugby's Five Nations Championship looks set to be resolved.

At a meeting in Bristol on Wednesday night, representatives of England, Ireland, Scotland and reached an accord which enable England to continue to compete in the game's oldest international competition, which has been on the calendar since 1909.

England had been threatened with expulsion after agreeing, contrary to long established procedure, a unilateral five year deal with BSkyB television worth £87.5 million to cover England's Five Nations matches as well as English club rugby.

England's expulsion from the Five Nations Championship was due to be confirmed at a meeting in Dublin next Sunday. Ireland, Scotland and Wales had refused individual offers from BSkyB, with Wales being offered £40 million over five years and Ireland and Scotland £28 million each.

While no details of the settlement have been announced, an equitable distribution of the money from the television rights would have been central to any agreement. That traditionally has been split equally four ways. The new accord could mean that all four countries will receive about £8 million a year for those rights.

The rights of terrestrial television to transmit the matches live were also at the forefront of the dispute, and the agreement is certain to have preserved those rights at least where Ireland, Scotland and Wales are concerned.

The meeting in Bristol brought agreement between the four home unions. The French Rugby Union (FFR) has a separate television agreement with French television. The English Rugby Union (RFU) had failed to come up with a formula to satisfy its long standing partners despite a series of negotiations over the past four months.

The representatives of the four home countries will now report back to their respective unions. If the union executive committees agree, as seems likely, the championship will go ahead this season and into the foreseeable future. All four unions will meet today, and details of the agreement will be announced at a press conference in Dublin on Monday.

There was widespread relief in the game at the outcome. Syd Millar, Ireland's representative on the TV sub committee, and Tom Kiernan, chairman of the Five Nations committee, both of whom attended the Bristol meeting, welcomed the development.

"I hope now the accord will be acceptable to all four unions. It is not a question of winners and losers. The issue was not just about money. It was about much more, including who controls the game", Millar said last night in an obvious reference to anxiety over BSkyB's growing influence on the game.