Rugby's pounds 87m deal gives Murdoch transfer veto

DAVE HADFIELD

Rupert Murdoch's influence over British sport has assumed a new and threatening shape with the revelation that leading players in rugby league's Super League - which kicks off next March - will not be able to change clubs without the permission of News Corporation.

A copy of the "loyalty" agreement signed by dozens of Britain's top players in preparation for the launch of the Super League reveals that Mr Murdoch's News Corporation, which has pumped pounds 87m into the game here, has a veto over who goes where.

Sky Television already tailors kick-off times and fixture dates in Premiership football to its needs. But the extent of Mr Murdoch's control of Britain's second-best supported team game has emerged as much greater. Already the sport, which celebrated its centenary this year, has been switched to a summer season, and there are fears that plans to merge clubs, abandoned in the face of supporters' protests earlier this year, may be revived.

It is clear the organisation will be able to control players' movements. The second clause of the contract, which has come into the hands of the Independent, reads: "You will not modify, amend or terminate your contract with the club or waive any of its provisions without News' prior written consent."

This, as some clubs have discovered when they have come to negotiate transfers, gives the organisation the power to block a move of which it disapproves - possibly because it threatens to make a strong club even stronger, or because it removes a draw-card player from a team heavily dependent on him.

When players, including virtually the whole first-team squad at the champion club Wigan and a scattering elsewhere, signed the contracts earlier this year they were thought to be agreeing only not to join the Australian Rugby League, which is still locked in conflict with Mr Murdoch for control of the game in the Southern hemisphere. In fact, the clause goes much further, giving News International a degree of control over the game's internal market.

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