Review of TV rights ‘will turn golden decade of sport into decade of decay’

Author: By Robin Scott-Elliot, Sports News Correspondent

The recommendations, if acted upon, would turn Gordon Brown’s much heralded “golden
decade of sport” into a “decade of decay”, according to David
Collier, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

An independent panel chaired by David Davies wants England’s home Ashes Test
matches against Australia, and other major events, to be returned to the
list of “crown jewel” sports from 2016 and made available on
free-to-air television. That would preclude pay-TV broadcasters such as
BSkyB from screening fixtures exclusively.

Mr Collier believes the report to be “flawed” and his views were
echoed by representatives of the sports involved. Rugby league, rugby union,
football, horse-racing, tennis and Olympics bodies unanimously rejected the
findings, which recommend a new single list of protected sporting events of “national
resonance”.

It is the presence on the proposed list of home Ashes Tests, competitive
football internationals for all home countries, home and away, and Wales’s
home Six Nations rugby matches that have caused most controversy. The report
by Mr Davies, former executive director of the Football Association, also
said the old “B List” which required sporting highlights to be
made available to terrestrial broadcasters should be abolished.

Mr Davies said it was now for Ben Bradshaw, the Secretary of State for
Culture, Media and Sport, to make a “political decision” that
takes into account any financial implications. He added that his remit had
been to “look beyond the interests of any one sport and put the viewing
public first”. But it is his failure to take into account the financial
impact of the recommendations that has infuriated the ECB and others. “The
biggest issue is that the ‘golden decade’ of sport the Prime Minister
promised could turn into a decade of decay if all this gets implemented,”
Mr Collier said. “It would definitely cost sport, not just cricket ?
the conversations we’ve had this morning with rugby union, tennis…
everybody has the same issue. It would happen ? it would be a decade of
decay. We cannot put it stronger than that. We find it bizarre that you can
make recommendations to the Secretary of State that this or that has
resonance but we can’t tell you whether it’s feasible. It doesn’t make
sense.

“We are all conscious of the need to have a balance. That’s why we are
equally astonished that the B-list was abolished. For us, our highlights
package on terrestrial TV is utterly critical, and that has been abolished.
It is a flawed report.”

The listing of Wales’s home Six Nations games could lead to a dramatic cut in
grassroots funding for the sport, according the Welsh Rugby Union. “This
would erode our ability to get the best deal for Welsh rugby,” said a
source.

A similar impact is feared by the cricket authorities; one county coach
suggested that it would end with him having to lay off players and staff.

The whole of Wimbledon fortnight would also be listed, as opposed to just the
finals, and that alarms the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA). “We are
extremely concerned,” said its chief executive Roger Draper. “Why
change the status quo if the only effect of that is to damage the sport by
reducing the investment we have available to grow tennis and develop British
talent?”

The ‘Crown Jewels’: What’s on the list and what’s not

The proposed list of protected events

* Summer Olympics

* Football: World Cup finals

* Football: European Championship finals

* Football: Home and away qualification matches in the World Cup and European
Championships (listed in the Home Nation to which they relate)

* FA Cup final (England, Wales and Northern Ireland only)

* Scottish FA Cup (Scotland only)

* Grand National

* Wimbledon Championships (listed in their entirety)

* Open Championship golf

* Cricket Home Ashes Test matches

* Rugby Union World Cup tournament

* Rugby Union Welsh matches in the 6 Nations (in Wales only)

Events that would come off the old A list

* Winter Olympics

* The Derby

* Rugby league Challenge Cup final

Events on old B list that would be scrapped

* Cricket Home Test matches (apart from the Ashes)

* 6 Nations games involving home countries

* Commonwealth Games

* World Athletics Championships

* Cricket World Cup

* The Ryder Cup

What happens now?

The report has been submitted to Ben Bradshaw, the Secretary of State for
Culture, Media and Sport. He will hear further submissions from sports
governing bodies, focusing particularly on the financial impact of any list.
The Government will then announce its decision after a statutory 12-week
period of consultation. “Sport is a key element in our national
identity, part of the glue that binds us together,” said Mr Bradshaw. “We
want to ensure that everyone has access to the leading sports events that
matter most to the nation, as well as a strong financial footing for our
leading sports.”

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