Murdoch faces rugby challenge

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DOZENS of MPs, including the Deputy Speaker of the Commons, Geoffrey Lofthouse, are preparing to challenge Rupert Murdoch's £75m bid to buy up the British Rugby League game, writes Paul Routledge. Mr Murdoch is proposing to shrink the 35 league clubs into a "superleague" of only 14, playing for television. Many famous clubs will merge or disppear. Salford and Oldham would become Manchester, for example, while three famous Yorkshire clubs, including Wakefield Trinity, would become Calder. The deal was accepted by club chairmen in private a week ago, but is now facing angry opposition from players and supporters.

Now, MPs plan to investigate legal challenges to the deal, including a possible reference to the Monopolies & Mergers Commission. Mr Murdoch may be summoned to appear before the Commons Heritage Committee. An early day motion will be put down when MPs return from holiday on Tuesday. Labour politicians campaigning in Yorkshire for next week's council elections have found the Murdoch coup the issue most frequently raised on the doorstep. "People are incensed that their cultural heritage is being sold behind their backs," said one party source. Some MPs fear that a similar fate could befall Rugby Union and other sports.

Ian McCartney, MP for Makerfield and chairman of the 80-strong parliamentary Rugby League group, said : "This is the first time a British sport has been bought lock, stock and barrel by an international media conglomerate. It will no longer be a game. It will be a media product. It is Fantasy League. Mr Murdoch would be happy with an empty stadium, as long as it had a camera and sound effects."

Some MPs suspect that there will be asset-stripping, with out-of-town pitches replacing lucratively-situated town centre sites.

Reports, page 3 and Sport