RFU wades into European rights row
September 14, 2012
The battle for the future of the Heineken Cup is intensifying © PA Photos
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) insists it has not consented to Premiership Rugby (PRL) granting broadcasting rights for European games.
Premiership Rugby, the umbrella organisation representing English rugby's leading clubs, announced a £152m tie-up with BT earlier this week with the 'ground-breaking' deal including exclusive rights for Aviva Premiership matches for four seasons from 2013-14 and, more controversially, any games played in Europe by Premiership clubs for three years starting from the 2014-15 campaign.
The RFU launched an immediate investigations into whether Premiership Rugby had the right to sign such a wide-ranging deal under the terms of their long-term agreement signed in 2008 that governs the professional game in England. "We are exploring the legalities around the relevant section of the agreement between PRL and the RFU in 2007," an RFU spokesman said. "We will continue to talk with all parties on what is a complex and fast-moving set of issues, in a confidential manner."
As the row intensified, the RFU issued a further statement that appeared to confirm their belief that Premiership Rugby had breached that agreement but also stressed their desire to find "common ground" when the key players in European rugby meet in Dublin next Tuesday to discuss the future of the game.
"The RFU will continue to liaise with all stakeholders, in order to help reach a conclusion which benefits all," it said. "Whilst the RFU has not given consent to Premiership Rugby to grant European Broadcasting Rights, we believe it is important to work with them and with all parties involved to find common ground. We anticipate that this process will begin at the ERC stakeholder meeting on Tuesday, September 18."
However, Premiership Rugby's stance does not appear to be wavering under increasing pressure with a source saying: "What this is about is club competitions being run by clubs rather than the unions. The Champions League is not run by the Football Association or the German federation and imagine how stupid it would be if it were. It is in everyone's interests to play together with a more even distribution of money than is currently the case. It comes down to who blinks first."
The RFU's original query followed that of European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC), the organisers of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup, whose claim that the deal was in breach both of IRB regulations and of a mandate from the ERC Board has since been dismissed by Premiership Rugby.
The current agreement governing European competitions expires at the end of the 2013-14 season with Premiership Rugby and their French counterparts, Ligue Nationale de Rugby, having already served notice to leave in order to trigger a re-negotiation period. To further cloud the issue, ERC have also announced an extension of their existing broadcasting partnership with Sky Sports until the end of the 2017-18 season that clashes with the terms of the BT deal.
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