Super League of contradictions

Dave Hadfield analyses a legal move that puts the English game in more doubt
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The Independent Online
WITH less than three weeks to go before the start of Super League, the game in Britain is at best subject to a glaring contradiction and at worst in serious doubt.

On one side of the world, Maurice Lindsay, the chief executive of the European Super League, insists that the competition here is safe and secure regardless of what happens in Australia. But in court Down Under a QC retained by the Rugby Football League - the British governing body - has tabled an affidavit from Lindsay which states that Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation will have grounds to scrap its pounds 87m contract with Europe if Super League is scrapped in Australia.

Those two statements have flown around the world to collide head-on with one another. Only one thing is certain - they cannot both be entirely true.

It is unlikely that the undisputed leader of the game in Britain would be so cavalier with the truth as to authorise the submission of false evidence to a court in order to try to influence the outcome of a case.

In that case, all the bold assurances that have been given about the future of Super League here are lent a certain hollowness. The temptation to put forward two different versions for two different audiences has proved irresistible, but it has exposed a basic contradiction.

If the affidavit is the truth and the propaganda aimed at domestic ears is a bluff then Britain must look forward to the next series of judgments on Tuesday with dread. If the Australian Rugby League's winning roll continues, they will succeed in blocking Super League there until the next millennium - March 2000, to be precise.

Alec Shand QC, who is acting for the RFL, has indicated to the court what is likely to happen in that event. Having exhausted various appeals, Murdoch would pull out of a commitment to Europe that no longer makes any commercial sense to him. The game in Britain would be left high and dry.

This is not a state of affairs that gives any satisfaction, even to those who had their doubts about the deal from the day it was announced.

As Shand also said in Sydney - and this is one statement that is unquestionably true - more than half Britain's professional clubs would face bankruptcy and extinction if the comforting rug of Murdoch money were pulled from under them.

The clubs have been told by Lindsay to sit tight and wait for matters to come good, but many of them have a nasty feeling that they are not going to.