Thursday 22 February 2018

RTE team's €350,000 World Cup expenses

Pundits enjoyed five-star treatment as licence-payer left to foot the bill


WE didn't qualify for the World Cup last summer, but that didn't stop RTE splashing out €350,000 in hotel, travel and food expenses for its on- screen stars, both in Dublin and South Africa, new figures reveal.

They amused and confused us with their in-depth and razor-sharp analysis, but it is clear such talent does not come cheaply.

This weekend, the state broadcaster defended the high spend on the June competition -- which excluded salaries and contractual fees paid -- given its blanket coverage, headed by anchor Bill O'Herlihy. According to documents released to this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, the Dublin-based pundits including Johnny Giles, Liam Brady, Graeme Souness, Ossie Ardiles and Didi Hamann, were fed, watered and chauffeured at the expense of the licence payer.

In total, RTE racked up a staggering bill of €342,749 in expenses alone for its stars during the competition.

The figures show that €20,084 was spent on accommodation costs in Dublin, including stays at the luxurious five-star Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephen's Green for the "non-Irish based" panellists. Those known to have stayed there include Ardiles, former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness, Didi Hamann and Liam Brady. One unnamed panellist secured alternative accommodation during the World Cup, again paid for by RTE.

It has also emerged that flights to Ireland for the panellists cost €4,979, while the cost of ferrying these stars between their hotels and RTE amounted to €3,320 during their stay. They didn't go hungry either, as €4,598 went on subsidising their meals in the RTE canteen.

For those who travelled to South Africa, including commentators George Hamilton and former internationals Ray Houghton and Trevor Steven, no expense was spared.

In total, 11 people, including a number of off-screen producers, travelled for RTE to South Africa, costing in total €77,102 in expenses alone. According to the FoI request, flights from Dublin to Johannesburg -- as well as air travel within South Africa -- for the travelling party came to €19,499.

Commentator Steven Alkin said they all flew out together apart from commentator George Hamiliton. "George Hamilton, as is his wont, decided on a different route to the capital of Gauteng. He flew Etihad to Abu Dhabi and met us at our team hotel," he said, in his RTE blog about the competition.

The team's main hotel base was in Pretoria, at the four-star Courtyard Hotel Arcadia, at a total cost of €40,358. The hotel is situated in leafy 'Embassy Row', in the suburb of Arcadia. Park-like gardens are wonderful for walks and guests are invited to sit back, relax and enjoy the grace and charm of a bygone era.

"It is situated minutes away from shopping centres, cinema complexes, highly acclaimed restaurants. . . in Pretoria city centre and the trendy suburb of Hatfield," the hotel's website says.

According to RTE, the hotel was booked as part of a block booking by FIFA. "The hotel is old English in character and again the staff were very glad to welcome us. Pretoria was chosen as our base because of its proximity to Johannesburg and the fact that it is known to be a much safer place," Alkin said.

Each of the team was given €105 a day in an allowance for food and subsistence. In total, the food bill in South Africa came to €17,245.

Defending the high spend, RTE said: "RTE had a travelling party of 11. This compares to a reported 295 for the BBC and 160 for ITV. It was a huge undertaking, with over 200 hours of coverage broadcast on RTE Two alone."

A spokeswoman told the Sunday Independent: "The Shelbourne Hotel bill relates to non-Irish based panellists and includes accommodation costs only. A rate was negotiated as part of its ongoing drive for cost efficiencies -- the details of this are commercially sensitive but represent a considerable reduction on the standard room rate."

RTE refused to disclose how much each pundit was paid for their services, citing "commercial sensitivities."

Sunday Independent

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