Row brews over 'radical' TV sport review

Monday, November 9 2009, 10:42 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

A major backlash is expected from UK sporting bodies if a review panel triggers the biggest shakeup in free-to-air TV sports rights in over a decade.

Led by former FA executive director David Davies, the panel of experts is currently reviewing the list of major sporting events that are protected for broadcast on free-to-air television.

Upon completion, the consultation will advise the government whether certain key tournaments, including the Ashes and international football qualifiers, should be placed on the list going forward.

According to sources reported in The Guardian, the panel will call for the whole Wimbledon tournament to be added to the A-list for fully protected events rather than just the finals, following strong viewing figures for Andy Murray's run at this year's event.

The experts, including Colin Jackson, Dougie Donnelly and Eamonn Holmes, will also grant Rugby union internationals in Wales free-to-air protection as the matches regularly top seven million viewers.

The panel wants to introduce a "radical" reshuffle to the list by making it shorter and more focused on the events which have "special national resonance". A more regular review could also be among its recommendations as the current ten-year cycle is viewed as too long.

Current protected events, such as the Olympics and FA Cup Final, are expected to remain on the A-list, but the B-List - stipulating free-to-air highlights - will be ditched completely.

Among other likely recommendations, the rugby league final and the Epsom Derby will be dropped from the protected group in a move likely to anger their relative governing bodies due to a potentially reduced profile.

One of the biggest rows could surround the Ashes cricket tournament, which could be returned to the list in time for the next home tournament in 2013.

However, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) strongly opposes any such move as it views the money gained from TV deals as vital for funding grassroots cricket development in the UK.

Back in 1998, the ECB lobbied for Test matches to be removed from the protected list, which enabled it to agree a 220m TV rights deal with Sky. A further 300m deal with the satcaster will come into force next year, which includes the 2013 tournament.

As an alternative solution, the BBC recently suggested that the 2013 series should be simulcast on the BBC and Sky Sports to give maximum coverage.

After ten months of consultation, the review panel will report its findings to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport within the next week. A further 12-week consultation is likely to follow after that before any action is taken.