ERC: BT deal for European Cup rights illegal

A deal signed by BT to broadcast European matches involving leading English clubs from 2014 is illegal, European Rugby Cup (ERC), which runs European rugby competitions, said on Monday.

ERC: BT deal for European Cup rights illegal

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Leinster's rugby players celebrate with the trophy after they won the Heineken Cup final rugby match against Ulster at Twickenham Stadium in London (Reuters)

ERC has been involved in talks about the European competition reform from 2014, with the French and the English clubs advocating a change in the qualification rules and a reduction from 24 to 20 clubs.

BT Group has signed a £152 million exclusive agreement to broadcast English Premiership and European ties involving top English clubs from 2014, while ERC struck a four-year deal with the current rights holder BSkyB, starting in 2013.

BT suggested they could create a new European competition to enable them to broadcast high-level games.

"This is shocking because it is illegal," ERC's chairman Jean-Pierre Lux told a news conference held with the members of the seven French clubs qualified for this year's Heineken Cup.

"The English (delegates at the ERC) did not say anything about how the money from the deal will be shared between the domestic and European competitions and how it will be shared with the other countries' (clubs)," he said.

"They opened talks directly with some South African and French clubs. This has hampered the negotiations. It is hard to talk with them. We may have to move on without the English, though I do not want it."

Apart from the TV rights issue, the French clubs re-affirmed on Monday that they wanted a tightened schedule, with a cut to 20 clubs and a change in the qualification rules could help to implement.

"Is it really appropriate always to have two Italian clubs in the group stage? Is it normal that some teams automatically qualify while others have to fight for their place? I am not sure," AS Clermont general manager Jean-Marc Lhermet told a news conference.

French and English teams need a top-six finish in their leagues to book a place in the Heineken Cup.

However, three Welsh teams qualify along with three Irish, two Scottish and two Italian clubs regardless of their final ranking in the Celtic league.

The French and English have been asking for the Celtic league quota to be reduced to six teams instead of 10. The Heineken Cup winner and the Amlin Cup Challenge winners both qualify automatically for the next Heineken Cup.

Toulon and former France manager Bernard Laporte said he would prefer the European Cups to be played in two months to allow the clubs to move on to their domestic ties afterwards.

"A single playing window would be more logical to me," he said. "Then we could move on to our domestic championships."

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