Exclusive: Split looms over TV money

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The Independent Online
AS THE bidding for the television rights to rugby's Five Nations' Championship intensifies, an emergency meeting has been convened in Cardiff this weekend by representatives of Wales, Scotland and Ireland in a united attempt to counter England's demand to pocket a bigger slice of TV revenue.

Under the chairmanship of Fred McLeod of the Scottish Union, the Celtic nations will discuss a battle plan to thwart England's ambitions to end the equal sharing of the money from the BBC contract by the four home nations. Some 73 per cent of the television audience for the Five Nations' Championship comes from England, and it is believed that the Rugby Football Union want a proportion of the revenue which better reflects that.

The present contract is worth pounds 12m ( pounds 3m for each nation spread over three years) and the new deal - the deadline for which is next April - could be worth pounds 20m. England, with a need to finance the rebuilding of Twickenham, seem determined to assume the dominant position and have appointed John Jeavons-Fellows, an RFU committee member and a successful industrialist, as their negotiator.

The implications for the Five Nations' Championship, should the other home countries dig their heels in, are immense and could conceivably lead to the disintegration of the world's most prestigious and lucrative rugby competition. An Irish spokesman said: 'England would look damn silly playing among themselves at Twickenham, or even just against France, Italy or Romania. I don't think the television companies or the sponsors would be too happy with that.'

The Scots feel equally affronted by England's demands, and I understand that Wales, who are already considering a satellite deal should they be forced to go it alone, are in no mood to give ground.

The RFU, who have denied that they are asking for a larger share of the revenue, will not comment on these latest moves. It is believed, however, that their demand is for rather less than the 70 per cent that has been suggested in some quarters.

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