Is Covering Rugby A ‘Human Right?’ WAN In Tiff Over Cup Limits

By: Mark Fitzgerald

For several months now, the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and a coalition of news organizations including Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press, and Reuters have been butting heads with the organizers of the 2007 rugby World Cup over press coverage limitations during the games.

Under rules adopted by the International Rugby Board (IRB) for the Cup this September, Internet coverage including newspaper Web sites would be limited to publishing a maximum of five still photos per half and two photos of overtime.

IRB has also set down strict limits on print media as well. According to WAN, it is “banning the common practice of superimposing headlines and captions on photos if they obscure advertising within the images, for example.”‘

Now the press has a former rugby official on its side — someone who believes the restrictions are nothing less than an attack on human rights.

In an open letter to IRB released Monday by WAN, David Rutherford, the former chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Union, has argues the restrictions violate press freedom and hurt the long-range business interests of professional rugby.

“Failure by bodies like the IRB to observe human rights norms in pursuit of the dollar undermines rugby as a sport as much as drug cheats do,” Rutherford wrote.? Such a failure undermines democracy in the nations in which rugby is played, and it undermines the fundamental ethics and values of sport, and rugby in
particular.”

WAN successfully fought the organizing body of the soccer World Cup, known as Fifa, when it proposed similar restrictions on Web postings during the games in 2006.

Sports bodies worldwide are placing ever more onerous restrictions on the press. During the 2005 Confederations Cup and World Cup Draw, for instance, newspapers were banned from publishing photos on the Internet until two hours after the final whistle. Also only single still images could be published, and not sequences of game action.

Just last month, the Australian Football League said it would not provide media accreditation to global and foreign news organizations for any games in the 2007 season. Instead, the league announced the creation of its own exclusive agency to provide the media with AFL images, WAN said.

But in his letter to the IRB, former rugby official Rutherford said the media play an invaluable role in promoting games — and that sports business would deteriorate if the press is not allowed to do its job unfettered.

“The revenues of the game can be sustained while protecting the right of the media to gather and disseminate rugby news,” he wrote. “Most importantly, rugby can be more commercially valuable if it does not
follow those sports that have sacrificed democratic values and their own traditions and standards for dollars.”

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