Bunhill: Unsporting remark

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The Independent Online
A TERRIFIC story is working its way round the world's sporting venues. A fortnight ago the rumour was bouncing back and forth at the Lipton tennis championships in Key Biscayne, Florida. Last week, it was flying across the greens and fairways of Sawgrass, venue of the Players' Championship.

The story goes that Rupert Murdoch, the powerful bete noire of television and publishing, is negotiating to buy International Management Group from Mark McCormack, the equally powerful doyen of sports management and sponsorship.

The supposed deal - worth dollars 1bn ( pounds 670m) or more - would give Murdoch's Sky and Star satellite TV stations a monopoly over many of the world's sporting events and superstars. IMG manages scores of top names, including Nick Faldo, Andre Agassi, Alain Prost and even, on occasions, the Pope.

The rumour conjured up the monopolistic vision of Murdoch-run sports tournaments, with Murdoch-managed players, offering Murdoch-arranged sponsorship deals, broadcast on Murdoch TV stations, plugged by Murdoch newspapers.

Speculation was not entirely damped down by Ian Todd, IMG's managing director, who said 'we are not doing anything with anybody,' but then fatally added, 'even if half of Salomon Brothers in New York is supposed to be going over our figures for News Corp'.

Adding to the mystery was the absence of McCormack, 63, who along with building IMG is the fecund author of countless management tomes, including the best-selling What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School and The Terrible Truth About Lawyers.

The terrible truth about McCormack was that he was (and still is) in the middle of an 80-day world cruise somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. There have been reported sightings in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then in Punta del Este in Uruguay, then in Tahiti.

Undeterred, Bunhill eventually tracked him down to the deck of the Royal Viking Sun, a steamer cruising north from Indonesia, where, alas, the spoilsport was able to puncture the entire story with five words: 'The rumours are totally unfounded.'

Still, I can't help noticing his ship was steaming towards Hong Kong, which Murdoch has made his temporary home.

(Photograph omitted)