TV rugby proposal gets boost as French pave way
THE Irish Government is not alone in proposals to broadcast major rugby matches free of charge -- France has already designated the Six Nations tournament and Heineken Cup as free to air.
And the new coalition government in Britain has confirmed that it is to undertake a review of which sporting fixtures will be designated 'free-to-air' in the future.
At the height of the controversy over the divisive proposal this week, rugby bosses had claimed Ireland would be left isolated.
A submission from Sky Ireland, seen by the Irish Independent, reveals the extent of its opposition to designating sports events as "free-to-air" in legislation.
The Six Nations matches are broadcast for free but only because RTE won the broadcast rights.
But come 2013, unless the Six Nations is designated as "free to air", it will be open to the likes of Sky and Setanta to outbid RTE.
Controversial proposals from Communications Minister Eamon Ryan would see both rugby competitions broadcast free on regular Irish television channels.
But this would mean a major loss to channels such as Sky Sports and Setanta that can charge for sports packages.
A decision on the Six Nations matches in Britain was deferred until after the recent British elections, a spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport confirmed last night. With a new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government now in situ, those free-to-air proposals will be looked at in "due course".
The fact that three out of six nations are on a similar wavelength comes as Mr Ryan faces an uphill battle to have his proposals carried.
There is major resistance from Sky Ireland to seeing these matches listed as "free-to-air" by a government.
Sky bosses, who met with Mr Ryan this week, have declined to publicly commit on the free-to-air proposal as the broadcaster prepares another written formal submission.
But a Sky Ireland submission, made 12 months ago during the first round of consultation, argued it was the responsibility of sports bodies to decide what was in the best interests of their sport -- and not a government.
It claimed there was "no case" for maintaining an event on a designated list, or adding a new event to the list unless "expressly requested" by the sports body concerned.
It said it was "unjustified and unnecessary to force sports bodies to effectively sell their rights to RTE by eliminating competition from pay TV broadcasters".
And it pointed out that RTE has resources to bid for sporting events in the open market "and has done so frequently and recently in the case of Premier League highlights and Champions League".
The arguments in the submission echo those put forward by the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), which has accused Mr Ryan of operating on a "hunch" and overseeing a "cracked" proposal.
And the Welsh proposal, similar to here, has prompted stiff opposition from the Welsh Rugby Union which has argued it will lose millions in exclusive broadcasting rights.
But in France, both Heineken Cup and Six Nations matches have been designated as free-to-air. Mr Ryan told RTE's 'Prime Time' programme this week: "The French Government insist that their national team is available to the French people... what we're doing is not out of kilter with what other governments are doing."