The Connacht Branch of the IRFU is seriously concerned that the consequences of the announcement by Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan to designate Heineken Cup and RBS 6 Nations rugby as listed ‘free-to-air’ events could have dire consequences for the future of rugby in the west of Ireland.
The controversial move by the Green Party TD would result in a loss of TV rights income to Irish rugby of between €;10 and €;12 million per annum, forcing a review of the existing professional rugby structures.
Gerry Kelly, Chief Executive of the Connacht Branch of the IRFU, said that the huge progress made in the west of Ireland would be seriously undermined if this proposal goes ahead.
He said that Minister Eamon Ryan is striking at the very heart of Irish rugby at a time where Ireland has just arrived at the structures in place to compete at the highest level.
“This proposal has the potential to dismantle the funding for these structures if it is passed and seriously undermine all the progress made in Connacht and throughout the country,” said Kelly.
“We work tirelessly to keep the Connacht provincial squad in operation as a competitive unit but the loss of TV revenues for Irish rugby will destroy the ability to retain current and future professional contracts of players with their home provinces in a continually competitive market place.
“This will weaken the challenge of the provincial teams in the Heineken Cup, Amlin Challenge Cup and Magners League,” he added.
The Connacht CEO said it would also impact on the club and underage structures in Connacht and Irish rugby whose funding support is largely derived from the professional game.
“We have made strides this year in terms of the team and support, illustrated by our Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final appearance against Toulon, so this could be an absolute tragedy for rugby in the west and Ireland.”
The Connacht Branch shares in the general concern for the future of its provincial and national teams and urges its loyal supporters to demonstrate its disapproval of Minister Ryan’s threatened action by emailing a message of disapproval to firstname.lastname@example.org.