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Volume 10 No. 24

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The meeting of European Rugby Cup Ltd.'s stakeholders in Dublin on Tuesday "passed off without the feared stamping of feet and slamming of doors after an acrimonious build-up," according to Paul Rees of the London GUARDIAN. Seventeen representatives from the six nations that make up the Heineken Cup stayed in the same room for five hours as they "discussed a new participation agreement – three months after the French and English clubs served notice that they intend to pull out of the competition at the end of next season unless changes are made." The outcome was that all agreed to gather again in Rome in October for further talks. Both France and England, who between them supplied seven of the delegates in Dublin, stressed that "their first option is to remain in the Heineken Cup, not launch a rival tournament." The discussions were more general than detailed, with each of the countries setting forward its priority for a new accord. Specifics, such as who should be awarded the TV rights for the Heineken Cup, were left for another day (GUARDIAN, 9/18). In London, Mark Souster reported that BT Vision "has made a conditional offer" of £152M ($247M) for the rights to English domestic and European rugby. Of that, £88M ($143M) "is earmarked for the Premiership over four years." That is £4M ($6.5M) a year more than Premier Rugby Ltd. receives from deals with Sky and ESPN. The balance on the table for the Heineken Cup is £64M ($104M), which PRL "proposes to put into a collective pot." To that would be added potential additional income from individual TV deals in territories, such as France, and divided three ways between PRL, the RaboDirect PRO12 and the Top 14 (LONDON TIMES, 9/18).

NEW DAWN FOR RUGBY: In London, Chris Hewett reported that England's disaffected leading rugby clubs did not expect news of "their megabucks broadcasting deal" with BT Vision to be met "with a chorus of approval" from Celtic nations, who feared it would spell the end of European rugby as they knew it. Their hunch was right. There has been "a fearful row." The Premiership's top brass believed that the commercial possibilities opened up by the agreement would "change important minds" at Tuesday's gathering of the Heineken Cup board in Dublin. The English were prepared "to go it alone, for as long as it takes." Leicester Chair Peter Tom, one of the most influential figures in English club rugby, thinks "the darkness of this hour indicates the imminent arrival of a new dawn for the northern hemisphere game." Tom said, "I'm an optimist by nature, and we all have an opportunity, almost out of the blue, to take a significant step toward financial viability. We've done this deal with the best of intentions, both for the Premiership and for a Heineken Cup competition we know can be significantly improved." He added: "There's a lot of tribalism involved: In part, it's the tribal aspect that gives rugby its special magic, but we can't allow it to get in the way of cool-headed, sensible commercial decision-making" (INDEPENDENT, 9/18). In Manchester, Steve Diamond opined that the issue has led to all sorts of lurid headlines with the Rugby Football Union claiming that "Premier Rugby had no mandate to make the agreement." He added, "Well, for what it’s worth, my view on the TV deal is simple. I believe that anything which brings more money to the English clubs has got to be good. And if the RFU disagree with it then give us more money" (MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, 9/18).

A proposal by National Rugby League Canterbury Coach Des Hasler to introduce an NFL-style video review system "that puts the onus back on the on-field officials for all decisions" was rejected by the NRL two years ago over concerns it would increase the pressure on referees, according to Stuart Honeysett of THE AUSTRALIAN. Hasler revealed he had first pitched the idea to then NRL CEO David Gallop and COO Graham Annesley in '10 and believed that "it was worth revisiting." Hasler said that he believes the NRL should adopt the same "instant replay" that the NFL uses, which can take place in the event of a close or controversial call, "either at the request of a team's head coach or the officials themselves." The referee is given 60 seconds to look over the instant replay of the play and make a decision on whether the original call was correct. The review usually occurs at a video monitor set up on the sideline. Hasler said that he would "raise the matter again at the NRL's annual end-of-season conference." Hasler: "Somehow we've got to set up the vision on the sideline for the two referees to go and look at the vision themselves." Football Operations Dir Nathan McGuirk welcomed Hasler's input and said that "it could be looked at again in the offseason," even if the NRL has rejected the idea in the past. McGuirk said, "I think it's great to see people within the game looking at positive ways to assist officials" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 9/19).