Rugby chiefs fear disaster over 'free' TV

RYAN: Pressure grows to ditch plan

Cormac Murphy

PRESSURE is growing on Communications Minister Eamon Ryan to ditch his "absolutely cracked" TV proposals for Irish rugby.

Mr Ryan's plan to make Six Nations and Heineken Cup matches free on Irish TV channels has outraged many rugby chiefs and fans.

The Irish Rugby Football Union has warned that the minister's proposals could even "destabilise European rugby".

It claims that making the matches free-to-air on RTE or TV3 would cost the IRFU €12m, amounting to 18pc of its annual income.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said Ireland's best players would move abroad in search of higher wages if the initiative was implemented.

"It is absolutely cracked," Mr Browne added.

And he insisted "there is nothing broken" about the current arrangement.

"There is nothing that needs fixing," he said.

Mr Browne predicted the plans would lead to "a very quick spiral of decline" for Irish rugby after a run of major successes.

Ireland would then become a second-tier rugby country, prompting "the end of the game's mass appeal".

"The irony is that Minister Ryan's proposal would destroy both the sport and the very cultural events the minister believes he would be protecting," Mr Browne said.

However, Mr Ryan insisted he remained "strong" in his own convictions about the issue.

The Green Party minister last month secured Cabinet approval to add the Heineken Cup qualifiers, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final as free-to-air matches when an Irish team is involved.

At the moment, these games are only available on pay channels. Six Nations games are being shown on RTE, which won the rights until 2013.