DCMS ringfences free-to-air broadcast of the Olympics, yet the IOC expect bids from pay TV broadcasters for the 2016 Games. What do they know that we don't?
Later this year, when the nationwide switchover from analogue to digital TV is complete, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will return to a shelved review of the list of protected sporting events – those that, by law, must be broadcast live on free-to-air TV. The current ‘A-list’ was drawn up in 1998.
The possible conclusions the review will arrive at have been a source of concern for sports fans in Britain for some time now. In April 2010, as Left Foot Forward reported at the time, the then shadow sports minister Hugh Robertson made clear that the Conservatives were in favour of cutting the number of listed events:
“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.”
So, which events might be for the chop? One rather surprising possibility emerges from today’s Guardian: the Olympic Games.
With a month to go until the start of London 2012, the tendering process for the UK broadcast rights at the 2016 games has already begun: the International Olympic Committee will formally start to consider various broadcasters’ bids on Friday. The paper writes:
“The UK broadcasting rights, which are held by the BBC, are protected by listed-events legislation that guarantees it free-to-air coverage. But the IOC has confirmed that a pay-TV broadcaster such as Sky or a telecom company such as BT, which recently paid £738m for a slice of Premier League live rights, could bid in expectation of the legislation being altered, or to sublease some of the rights back to a free-to-air broadcaster.“
Labour’s response to Robertson’s comments in 2010 was to accuse the Tories of “dancing to the News International tune”. Given that this latest news coincides with major structural changes in News Corp, there may yet prove to be something in that.
• What will a post-Olympics Britain look like? 27 June 2012
• The fight to save school sport goes on 5 May 2012
• The devastating effect of Gove’s desire to take an axe to school sport 29 November 2010
• Scrapping School Sport Partnerships – ideology or idiocy? 22 November 2010
Yet what this really showcases – assuming the aforementioned bidders do include pay-per-view TV companies who do, indeed, know something the rest of us don’t – is the cynicism of the Tories’ attitude towards sport. In public, they embrace the Olympics; in private, they close swimming pools, scrap School Sport Partnerships and charge young children to use public playgrounds.
Now they entertain the thought of forcing people to pay for the privilege of watching the world’s greatest sporting event, presumably on the basis that if this doesn’t “inspire a generation”, nothing will.