SLRFU plans television coverage for its domestic matches
Shot in the arm for SL rugby?

by Ravi Nagahawatte
It seems like Sri Lanka rugby will get a shot in the arm this season. As said by the rugby authorities television coverage will be a striking feature in the year 2003 inter-club rugby season. This concept would be welcomed by the busy rugby fans who generally follow the sport through the newspapers. But for the die hard club supporter following rugby through the television would be similar to forcing a regular at the pub to have his drink at home.

Television has never been rugby’s friend unlike in cricket. With just one or two clubs capable of providing entertaining rugby one cannot blame television stations for not showing a keenness to give rugby the kind of publicity which draws the attention of sponsors. If one looks at our rugby history not a single match, be it clubs or schools, has received full coverage on a regular basis. The Bradby Shield was telecast once or twice and so was the schools knock out final last year. The reason for this is that potential sponsors are only interested in one or two key games and not in an entire tournament.

If the Sri Lanka Rugby Union’s idea of giving rugby television coverage is realised, there is one club that would get a lion share of attention. Champions Kandy Sports Club are sure to reap the benefits of this concept which is likely to be brought into the sport. If a potential sponsor is only interested in a few games then the television station which wins the bid for TV rights from the SLRFU might telecast only a few key games. This same policy was adhered to by the Eye Channel of the Rupavahini Co-operation during the cricket World Cup when it telecast only the matches which were of interest to Sri Lanka. The other games got little publicity which were not worth mentioning. If the SLRFU is thinking about striking the best deal where television coverage is concerned it has to make sure that who ever wins the rights to telecast matches covers all matches of the tournament. This means that some footage of lop sided games are also shown on days where key games also take place. Getting a well known rugby personality to host this programme could also bring in the desired results.

People talk a lot about rugby matches and their favourite players. Rugby, like cricket, is a hot topic for discussion at popular meeting places. Think about the possibility of telecasting a rugby match at a pub. It is a well excepted fact that a robust game like rugby is well associated with the brewing industry. We see advertisements in newspapers when hotels and leading clubs offer the public the opportunity to witness key matches of the rugby world cup on a giant screen. People who have watched these matches know that it is beer or beverages with a high level of alcohol that are consumed by viewers. The government at one time brought in a regulation that sports bodies should not take sponsorships from companies which manufacture alcoholic beverages and products made from tobacco. The government also brought in a regulation restricting the opportunities these companies have in advertising their products on state-run print and electronic media. Sadly this regulation is still in force. A reputed rugby coach once said that rugby is associated with women, the use of bad language and alcohol. Even though the first two need hawk eyes and keen senses to be aware of, the latter’s existence in the sport is clearly evident where ever the game is played. If the government lifts the ban on sports bodies in dealing with companies manufacturing alcoholic beverages and products made of tobacco, companies like J.S.Player (manufacturers of John Player cigarettes), Ceylon Breweries , Mobitel, Sri Lanka Telecom and Caltex could show a keen interest in sponsoring SLRFU’s programme in televising its inter-club domestic matches.

It has come to a state that there are no heroes or big personalities in the local rugby field. The players are only known in the rugby fraternity and are relatively unknown in other spheres. But see how the national cricketers become familiar with the public at large. The little known Dilhara Fernando became a house hold name thanks to television. It is the case with well known players too. If the SLRFU is able to strike a deal with a television station our ruggerites too can earn popularity and become household names.

As stated by Mohan Balasuriya, President SLRFU at the rugby’s AGM, the sports governing body is determined to get television coverage for the sport. But Balasuriya explained the project needed a lot of funds and he wanted the ex-co members of the union to raise part of the funds. We are not sure at this juncture as to how the SLRFU authorities have progressed in pursuing this programme. Overall it seems to be good idea to take rugby to the doorstep of television viewers. Lets not talk about the negativity’s of televising key rugby matches. Such comments would only add to the list of negativity’s.