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Top sports make free-to-air vow

By Matt Slater

A cameraman comes in for close-up of David Beckham at World Cup 2006
TV rights for events like England matches are a contentious issue

The UK's leading governing bodies for sport have pledged to keep their main events on free-to-air TV, according to a new voluntary code of conduct.

The sports covered by the code have also vowed to spend at least 5% of their TV income on grassroots projects.

These commitments will be monitored by a 13-strong panel of experts, chaired by senior barrister Charles Flint.

"Sports events bind us together as a nation and it's vital, where possible, the public can watch them," said Flint.

"It's also crucial for the development of sport that broadcasting deals represent good value for money for governing sports. The voluntary code strikes the right balance between audience and revenue.

"On top of this, the voluntary commitment to reinvest a minimum percentage of broadcasting revenue into the future development of sport will guarantee a steady stream of funding into grassroots sport in the years ahead."

I can confirm both the spirit and letter of the code are being fully upheld across sport

Charles Flint
Chair of CCPR's sports broadcast monitoring committee
The eight signatories to the code, which was instigated by the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR), govern athletics, cricket, football, golf, rugby league and tennis, and include the likes of the England and Wales Cricket Board, the Football Association and the Premier League.

These sports make up the CCPR's "major spectator sports division", although there is one notable absentee, the Rugby Football Union.

To comply with the code, which formalises and updates an agreement drawn up in the mid-1990s, the governing bodies will have to demonstrate they have made "every reasonable effort" to meet its accessibility provisions and provide solid evidence of delivering on the reinvestment pledge.

Compliance will be monitored by Flint's panel - "the sports broadcast monitoring committee" - and signatories will be asked to provide annual reports. Failure to meet the code's principles will result in the panel "naming and shaming" the governing body concerned.

But it is the accessibility aspect of the agreement that will be the trickiest to police and by far the most controversial - the seemingly irresistible transfer of broadcasting rights from free to pay television has provoked considerable comment over the last decade, with recent high-profile cases including British football internationals and England Test matches.

CCPR CODE SIGNATORIES
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club/Lawn Tennis Association (joint)
England and Wales Cricket Board
PGA European Tour
Football Association
Premier League
Royal and Ancient
Rugby Football League
UK Athletics
And the timing of the announcement is also significant as it comes a day after the Department of Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) announced who would be sitting on a panel it has asked to review the list of events reserved for free-to-air television, the so-called "crown jewels".

That panel, which will be chaired by former FA chief David Davies and includes sporting luminaries such as Angus Fraser and Colin Jackson, will explore three questions: the validity of a reserved list in the digital era, which events should be on such a list and what criteria should be used to select events for that list.

The CCPR initiative can perhaps be seen as an attempt by the rights-holders to maintain some of control over the debate - one that is likely to become heated again this year with bidding for the next television deal for Premier League matches set to start and live coverage of this summer's Ashes series only available on pay-TV.

The events covered by the code's accessibility provision can be reviewed, although they will be similar to the DCMS list of reserved events. These are divided into A and B groups: the first pot being the biggest events that should be broadcast live free-to-air (and available to at least 95% of the population), and the second a larger group of events and competitions that need only highlights on non pay-TV.

The CCPR, an umbrella organisation that represents 280 national and representative bodies for sport and recreation in the UK, told BBC Sport the signatories currently "comfortably" meet both key principles of the code.

"The committee I chair has scrutinised all their current broadcasting deals," Flint added. "I can confirm both the spirit and letter of the code are being fully upheld across sport.

"Sports governing bodies have come together to self-regulate for the benefit of sport and the general public, which has to be a good thing."

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see also
Panel to review free sport on TV
21 Jan 09 |  UK News
Scotland games 'should be free'
27 Sep 08 |  Scotland
Brown worry on football coverage
11 Sep 08 |  UK Politics
Formula One to return to BBC TV
20 Mar 08 |  Formula One
Salmond hits out over TV football
27 Feb 08 |  Scotland
Blow for terrestrial TV cricket
23 Aug 05 |  Cricket


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