Rugby: TV row erupts again

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English rugby's bitter civil war erupted again yesterday with officials in public dispute once more over the controversies which split the game last year.

The personality clash between Cliff Brittle, the chairman of the Rugby Football Union's executive committee, and other leading officials, including the RFU secretary Tony Hallett and president John Richardson, was exposed again when the Daily Telegraph yesterday published an investigation into the union's pounds 87.5m television rights deal with BSkyB. The newspaper alleged a "pattern of evasion and obfuscation".

The principal issues are claims that the news that England were to be expelled from the Five Nations because of the TV deal was withheld from the Union's 2,000 member clubs at the 1996 annual meeting, and whether the Union do, as they say, have a veto over pay-per-view.

The RFU issued a statement yesterday, understood to be backed by Hallett, Richardson and treasurer Colin Herridge. "The RFU have debated all of these issues fully over the past month. There is nothing that has been raised in the article that has not been fully debated and voted on by both the executive and full committees and, indeed, in a large part, in general meetings.

"There have been five general meetings since July 1995. English rugby has been through a more democratic process than probably any other union in the world since the game was declared open in August 1995.

"We have an agreement at the top end with our top 24 clubs and following a Constituent Bodies Conference last week the RFU have promised the required funding to all levels of the game below League Two. The game in England is poised to move forward. It is astonishing that someone wishes to rake over events of the past.

"As far as BSkyB is concerned, we have repeatedly stated that BSkyB would stand by their word, which we faithfully reported at last year's AGM. That is that the RFU retain the right of veto over pay-per-view and scheduling. Proof of who was right will be in the final contract, which is nearing completion."

However, the airing of the game's splits means the annual meeting in July will be volatile.