Leading Article: Murdoch puts England in the second division

Related Topics
To some readers the fate of 15 men and an ovoid ball may not seem compelling. The shenanigans among rugby's rulers might seem a boys' affair, albeit in the case of the (English) Rugby Football Union grown men behaving as boys - badly. From next season England is out of one of the great tournaments in the national sporting calendar, the Five Nations rugby tournament. In selling television rights to British Sky Broadcasting it apparently forgot that the matches people most want to watch are between it and the other countries, Wales, France, Ireland and Scotland. These nations have not signed and have no intention of abandoning their existing television deal, even though Sky is waving its chequebook. The upshot is come the spring there will be no tournament, no Triple Crown nor any of the rest of rugby's popular regalia.

The involvement in all this of Sky and its huge sums of money makes this more than just a question of sport. There are unavoidable allegories here of the condition of modern Britain. Where are those vaunted qualities of phlegm, sportsmanship and a love of orderly procedure in public affairs? The evidence to hand exposes administrative cack-handedness, a wilful disregard of proper procedure and - not a new charge, this, sadly - hopeless short-sightedness. It also says something not very flattering about the vaunted commercial abilities of Rupert Murdoch and his television henchmen who have, it appears, come a cropper.

The Rugby Football Union - immortalised by Will Carling as the "old farts" - signed an agreement with Sky for nearly pounds 90m, the money to be channelled into paying for Twickenham stadium and pay for schools rugby coaches and so on. The RFU seems to have thought the agreement covered its home international matches. Sky had been banking on the other nations in the Five Nations set-up also signing up, at rates well in excess of what the BBC will pay.

How could the RFU have negotiated with Sky without ascertaining whether the other members of the Five Nations consortium would agree to England's idiosyncratic position? To have sought a deal that gave England a larger share of the cake is one thing - no one is saying the other Five Nations rugby officials come out of this looking anything but stiff-necked and recalcitrant. But to proceed without checking the status of England - either within the Five Nations or with substitute competitors from, say, the Tri-Nation set-up down-under - verges on the incredible.

Though the deal might seem an achievement for Rupert Murdoch, Sky Television's moneybags have also demonstrated how lacking in quality and vision many leading sports administrators are. There is nothing wrong with more money; there is everything wrong with a duff bargain that might (this is the case made by Vernon Pugh of the Welsh Rugby Union and the International Board) thwart the longer-term expansion of a sport. Mr Murdoch - or his current representative on earth Mr Sam Chisholm - puff and the RFU all fall down.

This is the age of big money and media contracts, when materialist professionalism is substituting for penurious amateurism. Much of what is happening is welcome. Company law may or may not be adequate to cope with Premiership clubs which are suddenly found in stock-exchange favour or successful rugby clubs such as Bath which have now hit the big time. But who is to say the way the leagues and the associations are run is either efficient or maintains any claims to democratic legitimacy?

Does the RFU really embody the will of rugby? Who speaks for rugby? Is it the players (and how to weight the claims of the amateurs and the would- be pros) or the club officials (oligarchs to a man)? What about the spectators, the people in the stands at Bath and Leicester, or those at home willing the national side to win, feeling as much part of the sporting community as those actually present? It will never do to say that those who pay to view alone should call the shots. If Sky subscribers rule then the laws might as well be rewritten to accommodate commercial breaks every quarter of an hour.

But that turns the sport into a private affair, something to be bargained over by a big private corporation and clubs. It is not and must never be. There is a wider, public interest in the conduct of sports, just as there is in access to a certain category of events which embody the nation and its spirits and which deserve to be broadcast to the greatest number of people. Of course Great Britain will not fall apart if we are deprived of Scotland vs England at Murrayfield or England vs Wales at Twickenham; but those cathartic, binding, passionate occasions do speak to something vital and enduring in the make up of this country.

It is a country about which the owner of Sky, Rupert Murdoch, seems to have very mixed feelings. Is he really the radical the actions of Sky would imply ? Today he can contemplate how he has managed to have made fools of the upper echelons of English rugby union. His clients in the RFU can offer subscribers only second-rate rugby, with patched-together friendlies between England and also-ran teams. Sky's great future hope - pay per view for all major events - is made to look vulnerable thanks in equal measure to the incompetence of England's rugby leadership and its own mistake in believing everyone has a money price at which they can be bought.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...


Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?