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IRB invites papers to boycott World Cup

By Peter Bills

The International Rugby Board last night took the extraordinary step of inviting the world's written media to go ahead and boycott the Rugby World Cup, which starts this Friday in France.

The astonishing row which has been simmering between the IRB and the world's leading media organisations threatens to cause chaos and disruption at the tournament.

The dispute is over the question of media rights regarding access and what media officials call "the freedom of the Press".

Leading French news agency Agence France Presse issued a statement over the weekend heavily criticising an IRB decision to restrict the number of photos news organisations could transmit during a game, and a decision to drop photo credits during the World Cup. French Rugby President Bernard Lapasset has been dragged into the escalating row with AFP. He said: "These terms are totally unacceptable and have been rejected by all the members of the coalition."

But the IRB last night upped the stakes significantly in the growing row. Greg Thomas, head of media communications, launched a blistering attack on the world's media. He said: "Newspaper groups have an over-inflated opinion of their own importance. They are demanding unlimited use of photos on the internet during events and that is complete nonsense. This is a rights grab by the media and we simply can't allow it. We have drawn a line in the sand. If the media feel they have to stay away, that is their decision."

Thomas then demolished suggestions from the media side that leading sponsors such as US-based Visa International were privately furious at the row threatening to overshadow the tournament for which they have paid millions of pounds to be involved.

"Our sponsors are 100% behind us," claimed Thomas. "They care only about the TV audience and that will be four billion for this tournament. They don't care about newspaper coverage."

At the very least, such publicity in the week when the World Cup begins is the last thing both the sport and its sponsors would have wanted.

Belfast Telegraph


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