Hello there? Hope you’re feeling well today.When I’ve chatted about Welsh rugby in this blog I’ve focused on the club game. That’s basically because I’ve nothing much to say about the national team. I’ve argued that at a club level rugby is, despite popular clichÃ©, not the most popular sport in the country and part of the reason for that is the club structure they created for what is now the PRO14 which basically disenfranchised people who felt unable to support the top tier regional teams in their catchment area (People in the South Wales Valleys for the Cardiff Blues for example).
But the national team is different. The clichÃ© about the nation watching the Wales team play on every available TV screen is not that far from the truth. On a regular basis the team is the catalyst that makes the people feel the most Welsh no matter what their views on other issues are.
So the news that the Welsh Rugby Union is considering moving the games of the Autumn Internationals, traditionally played with teams from the Southern hemisphere, from the BBC (where it has been shown since the dawn of time) to a pay TV operator is disturbing to say the least.
(A quick aside here – One of the Pay TV companies that is stated to be in the running to purchase the rights for these games is Sky Sports. They held some of the rights for the PRO 14 competition as well though lost that from next season. I’ve mentioned this before but if the PRO 14 competition was that good don’t you think they’d have made every effort to get that? So there’s a distinct possibility that Sky didn’t think the PRO 14 League was worth it.)
You may think “why the concern?” after all the English autumn internationals are on Pay TV and the English rugby world hasn’t collapsed? Well the answer is perfectly simple.
Wales is different.
As I have explained a Welsh rugby international unites the nation in a way few things do on a regular basis. This is definitely not the case in England where although there are obviously passionate fans it’s rarely an all encompassing passion for the nation whatever your age, class or religion.
It will, especially as the PRO14 games have moved to Pay TV damage the game. Not instantly, gradually, watching the team will no longer become a national event,as a consequence less people will want to watch the international games and of course less children will want play as that bond between the nation and the team reduces.
No one is saying that the Welsh Rugby Union should stick with the BBC. But it could move to a commercial Free To Air Operator. But moving to the likes of SKY will, in the long term, damage a truly Welsh passion.
Until the next time.