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Page last updated at 11:50 GMT, Wednesday, 21 July 2010 12:50 UK

Ashes free-to-air TV ruling deferred until 2013


Minister explains deferring Ashes ruling

A decision on whether future home England Ashes Test matches will be available on free-to-air television has been deferred until 2013.

Sports and Olympics minister Hugh Robertson said a ruling on sport's listed events would be made after the digital switchover process.

"The broadcasting context for this is increasingly unclear," said Robertson.

An independent review recommended in November 2009 an expansion in sports being free to view on television.

These included the Ashes and England's World Cup home and away qualification matches, as well as the Open golf championship, all of the Wimbledon tennis tournament and the Rugby World Cup.


The Winter Olympics would no longer be protected for free-to-air TV, however, while flat racing's showpiece, the Epsom Derby, and rugby league's Challenge Cup final were also absent in the list of events.

The panel also recommended a secondary list of protected events, which must have highlights available as free-to-air, be scrapped.

Wednesday's announcement, however, means that the current "crown jewels" list, drawn up in 1998, remains in force for the foreseeable future.

"I fully support the principle of protecting major sports events for free-to-air coverage," added Robertson.

"But with digital switchover concluding in 2012, this will result in the widespread availability of a significantly-increased number of television channels, many of which will be free to air.

England's Ashes celebrations
England won the last home Ashes series this summer, televised on Sky

"Add to this the BBC's strategy review, which will cover sports rights, and the Ofcom pay TV review, and the broadcasting context for this decision is increasingly unclear." "If we were to make a decision now we'd almost certainly hace to review after digital switchover," he added on BBC Radio Five Live."

Robertson noted that "the current economic climate also points to us not taking action which could adversely impact on sport, particularly at grassroots level".

It is this final point that prompted an angry response to the panel's recommendation from England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke.

At the time, he noted: "This report will have a disastrous impact on grassroots funding for every sport. Devastating. Surely the people who play sport have the right to be properly funded, properly coached and play in proper, safe places?"

Sports should run themselves - ECB chief

And talking to BBC Sport on Wednesday before the decision to defer a final ruling on listed sports was announced, Clarke said: "Right now, what is most important for sport is that it is able to be run as a normal enterprise where it has the right to sell its assets, to enable it to finance itself, to the highest bidder. That's perfectly reasonable.

"That would enable us to invest properly, and we welcome the minister's concern and interest in the importance of using television rights for professional sport to invest in grassroots.

"The digital switchover will have a significant impact on broadcasting in this country, so quite rightly the department and the minister want to see what the impact is before making decisions about matters as important as this.

"I think we should take it that for a number of years there will be various events that will remain where they are."

We have always held the belief that, as a national governing body, we are best placed to determine how our broadcast rights should be sold

FA general secretary Alex Horne

The Football Association, who faced being prevented from selling exclusive rights to England's qualifying matches to pay-TV broadcasters under Davies' proposals, were also pleased with this afternoon's news.

FA general secretary Alex Horne said: "We welcome today's announcement.

"We have always held the belief that, as a national governing body, we are best placed to determine how our broadcast rights should be sold, to ensure both fair commercial value and a continuing ability to invest in the grassroots of the game.

"This decision gives us that opportunity at a critical time."

The announcement was also welcomed by The All England Club and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), with chief executive Ian Ritchie saying: "As the rights holder we were extremely concerned that the proposed changes to a system, which already works perfectly well, would have had a severe impact on our future funding.

"We welcome the Minister's decision to maintain the status quo as being in the best interests of viewers, the public and the funding of tennis in the UK."

And Rugby Football Union management board chairman Martyn Thomas added: "The Rugby Football Union welcomes the Department for Media and Sport's decision to defer the listed events review until 2013.

"It was always our view, and that of other rugby authorities affected, that the existing model allowed us to invest the most amount of money back into the community game.

"At the same time the RFU is always aware of the need for the widest possible opportunity for our supporters to watch and enjoy rugby on TV and on the new digital channels to which the Minister referred.

"Rugby authorities will continue to work with our broadcast partners to optimise the balance between exposure and investment in the best interests of the game across the UK."

Peter Dawson, the chief executive of golf's governing body the R&A, who organise the Open, said: "This is a measured and mature response from government that allows the dust to settle on the digital switchover and the BBC Strategy Review before striking the right balance between viewer expectations and the duty of individual sports to fund grassroots development."


Olympic Games
Fifa World Cup finals
Uefa European Championship finals
Grand National
FA Cup final (England, Wales and Northern Ireland only)
Scottish FA Cup (Scotland)
Home and away football qualifiers for World Cup and European Championship (listed only in home nation to which they relate)
Wimbledon Championship (in its entirety)
Open golf championship
Cricket's home Ashes Test matches
Rugby World Cup tournament
Wales matches in Six Nations (in Wales only)


Events in italics recommended for deselection

Group A (Full live coverage protected)

Olympic Games
Fifa World Cup finals
European Football Championship finals
FA Cup final
Scottish FA Cup final (protected in Scotland)
Grand National
Epsom Derby
Wimbledon tennis finals
Rugby League Challenge Cup Final
Rugby World Cup final

Group B (Highlights only on free-to-air TV)

This secondary list would be scrapped.

England's home cricket Test matches
Other matches, excluding finals, at Wimbledon Championships
Other matches, excluding final, at Rugby World Cup
Six Nations matches involving home countries
Commonwealth Games
World Athletics Championships
Cricket World Cup - final, semi-finals and matches involving home nations
Ryder Cup
Open golf championship

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see also
SFA opposes TV free-to-air plan
19 Mar 10 |  Football
Panel names free-to-air choices
13 Nov 09 |  Sport Homepage
Reaction to free-to-air decision
13 Nov 09 |  Sport Homepage
Ashes set for free-to-air return
12 Nov 09 |  Sport Homepage
TV's 'crown jewels' Q & A
13 Nov 09 |  Sport Homepage
Scottish FA dismayed by TV plan
13 Nov 09 |  Internationals

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