So the cavalry has come charging over the hill, in the form of the International Rugby Board (IRB), and everything has changed in the clash of money v tradition in professional Rugby. To read the articles about this it would seem that everything will be sorted out but the Guardian put their finger on it…TV rights – what the whole dispute has really been about. BT Sports wants to kick Sky Sports out of the Rugby arena. Now we’ll see just how much BT Sports wants to do this as they do have the money to do a Kerry Packer on the whole world of Professional Rugby and blow everything apart.
Over the weekend I have read a number of commentators trying to get their head around what is happening. Many seem to think that the pinnacle of the modern professional rugby player’s career is play for their country. Perhaps that is still true to an extent but nowadays it may seem fair to suggest it might also be to maximise their earnings in the short and brutal career window they have. If this is the case then it doesn’t matter how many caps you get when compared to the amount of money in your account. These men are willing to suffer terribly for the sport they love and now expect to be paid very well for the privilege. Clubs want to do that but to do so they have to generate income – if they don’t then the payers will move to where the money is. The latest example is Toby Flood who has given up on international rugby for the chance of earning serious money.
In many respects Flood’s decision is the shape of things to come and if this is the case then what the IRB says matters very little. In fact the French professional teams have made it quite clear they are not that interested in the international arena – winning the domestic championship is all that counts and since they have just signed a new and very lucrative TV deal they are quite happy to sit this one out whilst hoovering up all the talent they can get their hands on.
So what happens next? Perhaps the English Clubs will blink or perhaps the Welsh region’s resolve will melt away or perhaps some form of compromise between BT Sports and Sky Sports will be found. Or perhaps some one will press the nuclear button and the whole world of International Rugby will collapse in very short order – along with it the 2015 World Cup, which probably would have been the last anyway given the outrageous amount of money that the RFU have promised to deliver to the IRB. There is only one Rugby nation who can match that and they sit 22 miles across the English Channel.
Time and again we see the old guard not understanding how things have changed. I mentioned Kerry Packer but his modern equivalent is the Indian Premier League (IPL) who don’t give a hoot about any other form of cricket and are quite happy as long as they are getting more and more money coming to them. There is no greater cricketing market in the world and if we are brutally honest that is the same for English and French professional rugby.
I have no idea how this whole mess will resolve itself other than to think that some International Sports body can sort things out is stretching credulity. I have also learnt over the past few weeks that most of the rugby journalists have no real idea what is going to happen and they are too wedded to the image of the rugby world of when they played. This mess is very very sad and won’t be truly resolved until the market has sorted itself out. To quote Rod Tidwell…”…show me the money…”