Rugby Union: England's return is no pie in the Sky

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The Independent Online
The prospect of further aftershocks following England's expulsion from the Five Nations' Championship has receded. Tonight representatives of the four home unions, headed by their presidents, meet in Cardiff where they will discuss reinstating England.

That is an essential preliminary to what is to follow if the future of the Five Nations, and indeed northern hemisphere rugby, is to be safeguarded. If England are to be restored to the competition - and the negotiating powers of the Rugby Football Union president, John Richardson, and Cliff Brittle, the chairman of the executive, will be tested to the full - it should open the way for more prolonged - heated even - discussion on the issue of television broadcasting rights.

However, any talks will not come down simply to a matter of the RFU fobbing off the other four nations - always assuming France wants to come in for a share of the pot - with a hand-out from its pounds 87.5m deal with BSkyB, expected to be around pounds 40m.

At the root of it all is the vexed question of satellite television and its exclusivity. While England was happy to sell its rights for all matches, representative and club, on English soil to BSkyB, the other unions - France having secured its own deal, worth around pounds 7m for each of the next three years - have so far eschewed the option of accepting some pounds 96.5m from Sky.

That sum may even be increased by Sky, which has offered Wales pounds 40.5m and Ireland and Scotland pounds 28m each. Were France to chip in its pounds 21m, the split would approach pounds 120m between the five, around pounds 24m per year for the next five years.

If the other countries agree to this proposal, all that then remains is to work out a satisfactory compromise to allow terrestrial television a share of the Five Nations live broadcasting rights. The RFU thinks that Sky could be persuaded to grant rights for an even split for the 10 Five Nations matches.

That could well appease the Welsh, especially with the possibility of terrestrial television broadcasting live Wales versus England at Cardiff.

Sky's involvement in the game is unavoidable. Terrestrial television just has to find a way to compete in an open market and the game has to come to terms with the inevitable.

David Young, the Wales Rugby League captain, has been offered a pounds 30,000 international squad contract by the WRU, making him the first player returning from the 13-a-side game to be given such a deal. Young, capped at union by Wales and the Lions, has joined Cardiff from Salford for pounds 65,000 but cannot play until after the Super League season finishes on 8 September.

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