Twickenham to back down on cash share-out

Rugby Union
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The Independent Online
Twickenham is prepared to climb down over the issue that has seen England thrown out of the Five Nations' Championship and concede the principle that the television revenue from the tournament should be shared equally between the four home unions.

The move is designed to mollify Scotland, Ireland and Wales, who were incensed when England negotiated their own pounds 87.5m five-year deal with BSkyB and are already drawing up plans for a four-nation competition to run for 10 years from next season, possibly backed by the BBC.

They argue that the Five Nations belongs to all the countries and that in making their deal England were selling something to which they had no right. Additionally, they argue that monies for the televising of the tournament should be equally divided between the four home unions - France have negotiated their own broadcast rights deal for the last 12 years or so.

Until yesterday, however, it appeared that the RFU were not prepared to go along with that thinking and that the tournament was on the verge of disintegration. England claimed that they were quite entitled to negotiate their own deal, and that, as they provided the largest proportion of the television audience and had the biggest infrastructure, they should be entitled to the lion's share of television revenue from the tournament.

Now, it is understood that talks are being planned involving senior officials from all five countries within the next seven to 10 days.

At the meeting it is believed the RFU will announce that they are prepared to accept that Five Nations money should be shared out equally.

It is thought they will make available somewhere in the region of pounds 35m - the television revenue from the two Five Nations games at Twickenham each year - from their pounds 87.5m Sky deal, to go into a Five Nations pool. Of the rest, pounds 22.5m has already been earmarked for the clubs for showing domestic games and the balance of pounds 30m, to the RFU as television rights for other Twickenham internationals and all other representative rugby.

Clearly the RFU hope that a climbdown will go a long way to persuading the other home unions to reinstate England and restore unity to the game.

But it may have come too late. Last night Cliff Brittle, chairman of the RFU executive committee, called for the resignation of the members of the negotiating team - which includes the secretary Tony Hallett and new treasurer Colin Herridge - responsible for the Sky deal. Speaking on Radio Five Live Brittle said: "The team that negotiated the television contract should stand down. They have completely misjudged the consequences of their actions and I should like to see them stand down."

And the pressure on Hallett and the RFU mounted further still with rumours that the Northern Division, who meet tonight, are considering drawing up a petition calling for an SGM at which they are likely to demand resignations from key figures.

But Brittle at least confirmed that the RFU have planned to meet with the other unions.

However, there are still likely to be sticking points. The other countries would have to do their own deals with Sky - and each have said they want to stay with terrestrial television.

Should their objections be overcome, Sky has already offered Wales pounds 40.5m, Ireland and Scotland pounds 28m each. The contract includes set sums of money which have to go directly to club rugby - some pounds 18.5m for Welsh clubs compared with pounds 22.5m in England. England's plan calls for each country to put a certain amount from their overall Sky deal into the Five Nations pool - roughly Wales pounds 22m, and pounds 20m each from Scotland and Ireland. The total pool of pounds 97m would then be divided equally between the four - pounds 24.25m each.

Should they accept the compromise, the other three home unions would want reassurances that, if the majority of rugby fans are to be denied live matches because they do not subscribe to the satellite company, then the terrestrial deal will allow secondary broadcasting as early as possible after the Sky broadcast.

If the RFU's climbdown is accepted by the Five Nations committee, it could well forestall moves from the shires to launch an offensive against the governing body.

HOW COMPROMISE MIGHT WORK

England concede principle of equal sharing of Five Nations revenue with Ireland, Scotland and Wales

England put into the Five Nations pool pounds 35m of the pounds 87.5m they are to receive from Sky. This would be the TV revenue for the two Five Nations matches at Twickenham each year.

The other three home unions sign up with Sky and put in their TV revenue from Five Nations matches. Roughly Wales pounds 22m, Scotland and Ireland pounds 20m each.

Total Five Nations pool of pounds 97m to be divided equally between the four Unions - pounds 24.25m each

ENGLAND'S pounds 87.5m

The clubs: pounds 22.5m

The four home unions: pounds 35m

The RFU: pounds 30m

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