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Page last updated at 12:26 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

Panel names free-to-air choices

Andrew Strauss
England won the last home Ashes series this summer, televised on Sky

England's home Ashes Tests would return to free-to-air television from 2017 if a review panel's recommendations on protected sporting events are adopted.

Home and away football qualifiers for home nations would be listed, plus Wimbledon tennis, golf's Open and Wales Six Nations matches for Welsh viewers.

But the Winter Olympics would no longer be protected for free-to-air TV.

Flat racing's showpiece, the Epsom Derby, and rugby league's Challenge Cup final have also been removed.

The recommendations will be welcomed by viewers but are controversial, with cricket chief Giles Clarke warning it could lead to "a decade of decay" for his sport.

While much of the list had been speculated on in the media, the addition of away football qualifiers and removal of the Winter Olympics from the protected free-to-air group was a surprise to many observers.

British Olympic Association chief executive Andy Hunt said he was "extremely surprised and disappointed" the Games could be dropped from the list of protected events.

The panel's detailed recommendations were announced on Friday morning by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

"Sporting events with a special national resonance should continue to be protected for the widest-possible audience," said a statement issued by the panel.

"There is still a place for a listed events regime, but its long-term future in a changing media landscape is by no means certain."

A secondary list of protected events, which must have highlights available as free-to-air, would be scrapped.


"If the Government chooses to continue listing events to ensure free-to-air broadcast coverage, there should be a single list of live events," said the panel.

"Protected coverage of highlights is now insufficient and out-of-step in a multi-channel, digital and online world."

Former Football Association executive director David Davies, who led the review, acknowledged it was an "immensely difficult" undertaking.

"I was told it was the poisoned chalices of poisoned chalices and I've had a few of those in the past," he told BBC Radio 5 live.

Current culture secretary Ben Bradshaw will consult for 12 weeks on the recommendations.

Davies explains Ashes recommendation

And he will get a frosty response from Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who is concerned about reduced funding.

"This report would have a disastrous effect on grassroots funding," he said.

The panel report also noted:

• An independent survey showed 82 per cent of people polled felt entitled to watch certain events free-to-air because they had already paid a licence fee

• The BBC has "a responsibility to give a high priority to such events, and this should be recognised by the BBC in its current review of its size and scope"

• BSkyB's role in "driving innovation in the way in which sport is covered in the UK"

• BSkyB's capacity with fellow broadcaster ESPN to reach 90 per cent of households in 2012 via commercial packages and Freeview

• Despite the changing media landscape, most people's first choice of how to view the bigger sporting events would be via a television set

• If listing continued, more regular reviews than previously should take place

• To qualify for listing, an event must have "a special national resonance" and not simply be significant to those who usally follow the sport concerned

• Such an event is likely to fall into one or both of the following categories: a) is a pre-eminent national or international sporting event b) involves the national team or national representatives in the sport concerned. It should also be likely to command a large TV audience


A statement from the BBC said the corporation supports "the principle that it is in the public's interest to protect events of national importance to ensure they remain free-to-air" and would review the findings and report in due course.

Last summer's Ashes, won by England, were shown exclusively live on Sky Sports, the first time a home series against Australia had not been available to viewers without a subscription package.

But in December 2008, Andy Burnham, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, announced a review into the sporting events that should be safeguarded on free-to-air television.

Reflecting on the success of the Beijing Olympics, he said "the broadcast of big sports events... get young people inspired by sport, driving sports participation and the creation of the next generation of sports stars."

He added: "The sale of TV rights helps fund grassroots sport, so we need to get the balance right."

Dougie Donnelly (broadcaster)
Angus Fraser (former cricketer)
Professor Chris Gratton (Sheffield Hallam University)
Eamonn Holmes (broadcaster)
Penny Hughes (sports sponsorship specialist)
Colin Jackson (former athlete)
Michael Pescod (law/banking specialist & racehorse owner)
Nick Pollard (journalist)
England women's football coach Hope Powell on panel before withdrawing due to work commitments

However, the panel led by Davies, with eight supporting members, has made a distinction between the summer Olympics and the Winter Games.

In 1998 home Test match cricket was controversially axed from the list of "crown jewel" events, paving the way for the England and Wales Cricket Board to negotiate a series of multi-million pound deals with BSkyB over coverage.

The ECB will now argue that, by depriving satellite broadcasters from entering the marketplace for the most popular home Test matches, their revenue will diminish substantially - and that will have a knock-on effect for the funding of county cricket and the grassroots game.

In August 2008, it signed a new four-year television deal with Sky Sports and Five (who broadcast daily highlights of home Tests), worth a combined £300m and running from 2010 until 2013.

The 2005 Ashes Test series victory, screened on Channel 4 and watched by millions, had sparked a "national celebration" whereas this year's success did not catch the public imagination in quite the same way.

If the proposed changes were to come into effect, the next home Ashes series (2013) would remain on Sky, with the first to switch back to free-to-air TV being the 2017 rubber.

But the picture is clouded further by what might be defined as free-to-air television, as the switch-off of the anologue signal by 2012 could mean some digital channels are covered by the description.

"Post-2012 there are a host of other broadcasters, including pay-TV broadcasters if they choose to do so, who will be in a position to bid for listed events," said Davies.


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
Reaction to free-to-air decision
13 Nov 09 |  Sport Homepage
Ashes set for free-to-air return
12 Nov 09 |  Sport Homepage
ECB ready to battle for Sky money
13 Nov 09 |  England
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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