Danger of RFU rift over TV deal

Rugby Union
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As the fall-out from the Rugby Football Union's decision to sign up with BSkyB came to earth yesterday, Cliff Brittle, the chairman of the executive, denied that he was going to call yet another special general meeting.

"I've not even contemplated calling an SGM," Brittle said from his Isle of Man home last night. "That quote that appeared was from someone else and it was attributed to me, but I certainly didn't say that yesterday."

There are rumblings from Brittle's backers that RFU heads should roll for the signing of a contract that has turned the other three home unions against Twickenham and will almost certainly lead to England's expulsion from the Five Nations' Championship next season.

Brittle feels he should have had more say in the deliberations of the seven-man panel, which was set up long before Brittle was elected to the chair of the executive as part of the RFU finance sub-committee.

"[I am] responsible for and have control of the day-to-day business matters of the union and directing the chairmen of all sub-committees. But that has been totally ignored," Brittle said. "I was not kept informed of the details of the negotiations. I have been excluded from the negotiations."

The RFU secretary, Tony Hallett, countered: "He [Brittle] was kept fully informed at all committee stages. He wasn't on the panel but he was at every committee meeting when the matter was discussed. As far as the TV contractual arrangements were concerned the full committee voted unanimously for the action taken."

If an SGM were to be called, there would probably be demands for resignations, but last night Hallett, one of the signatories to the BSkyB deal worth pounds 87m over five years, maintained: "I have acted in pursuance of the instructions the committee gave me as did the treasurer."

Brittle is concerned about the fate of the Five Nations. "I was absolutely shocked when I learned at a committee meeting on 5 June that the TV contract had been signed, without consultation with myself or some of the other officers. The details of it have been received by me this afternoon, which is six days after the event," he said.

He wants to salvage something from an apparently doomed Five Nations. "I think we must make every endeavour to retain the Five Nations' Championship. What we should be doing is expanding the game, not contracting it. If we are not careful we are going to have five or six big nations in the world where all the monies will be concentrated."