Cup loses pounds 10m deal

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The Independent Online
The European Rugby Cup lost its pounds 10m deal with ITV yesterday. Heineken, after whom the competition was to be named, were also considering their position, which could entail the loss of a further pounds 4.5m. However, the event's organisers said that the tournament would still go ahead.

A statement maintained that the participating governing bodies had guaranteed that their representative teams, would honour the 12-week tournament, which is due to start on 12 October.

ITV had tried to reach an agreement over the number of matches they could broadcast. An insider at ITV said the company had been promised live coverage of 18 matches but, in the end, they were offered six or seven. The company clearly felt it was not worth upsetting their schedules for so small a return from so large an investment.

Roger Pickering, the tournament director, insisted that ERC was committed to going ahead with the tournaments.

He said: "The European Cup is too important a tournament not to be televised and it is our responsibility to try and achieve the widest possible audience for what will be an outstanding competition."

It is likely that ERC's statement and Pickering's comment will further exacerbate Heineken. A source at the brewers said that they were likely to stay with the main tournament, but ERC's insistence on calling it the European Cup, not the Heineken Cup, in their statement will certainly not help relations between them and the sponsors they need so badly.

Rugby's civil war continued yesterday with the four Home Unions sounding off about the clubs' threatened breakaway. But that was probably meant as a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from the ERC-ITV split since the man sounding off was Tom Kiernan, who is chairman of ERC Ltd and the Five Nations Committee.

Kiernan called the possibility of a breakaway "a threat to the integrity of northern hemisphere rugby". He said the activities of English clubs in fomenting unrest among clubs in other unions was "unwelcome and divisive".

Meanwhile, Scotland's top players continued to hold out against signing contracts and have called for a meeting with the governing body.