Tories plan to slash free-to-air TV sports list

The Conservatives, if they win the election, will cut the "A-list" of protected sporting events that must, by law, be broadcast live on free-to-air television.

The Conservatives, if they win the election, will cut the “A list” of protected sporting events that must, by law, be broadcast live on free-to-air television. Shadow sports minister Hugh Robertson, who last month told BBC radio’s 5 Live Sport he opposed the Ashes returning to free-to-air TV, has revealed that he would “favour a smaller rather than a larger A-list”.

He said:

“We shall have a rigorous economic review of the impact of the Davies’ proposals but we favour a shorter A list of sports that are on free to air and a return to the B list showing highlights packages on terrestrial television.”

Mr Robertson’s remarks were seized upon by culture secretary Ben Bradshaw, who claimed Rupert Murdoch was pulling the strings of Tory TV rights policy, accusing the Conservatives of “dancing to the News International tune”. He said:

“The revelation that the Conservatives intend to take some of our most loved national sporting events off free-to-air television shows that they haven’t changed a bit.

“Events like the FA Cup, the Olympics, Wimbledon, and of course this Saturday’s Grand National are a big part of our national culture and heritage, and having guaranteed terrestrial coverage of them is something the British public values and takes seriously. They shouldn’t have to pay more to see the crown jewels of British sport.

“Sports fans up and down the country will be dismayed by yet another example of the Tories dancing to the News International tune.”

The Tories had previously said they would welcome the publication of the David Davies review into TV sports rights. Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt told the Newcastle Journal last November that the Conservative Party “entirely accepts the principle of a listed events regime”. On the issue of the Ashes returning to free-to-air TV, Mr Robertson had also described the proposals as “very foolish“.

In every other Test-playing country some home international matches are broadcast live on free-to-air TV. In Britain, the last time a Test was broadcast live on free-to-air was the final Test of the 2005 Ashes; the last one day international was the 1999 World Cup Final.

Currently, the only events covered by the A-List are the Olympic Games, the World Cup, the European Championships, the FA Cup, the Scottish Cup, the Grand National, the Derby, the Wimbledon finals, the Challenge Cup Final and the rugby World Cup Final. The events on the “B-List” – where highlights are guaranteed on free-to-air – include home Tests, the Six Nations, the World Athletics Championship, the cricket World Cup, the Ryder Cup and The Open.

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