U.K. sports rights may be kept on free TV

Gov't report says national sports to be available to public

LONDON -- U.K. sports bodies could lose hundreds of millions of pounds in revenues from broadcast contracts after a long-awaited review of British sport recommended that top national sports including home Ashes cricket matches, the Wimbledon Tennis Championship and a range of national soccer and rugby matches should be kept on free-to-air television.

The controversial report, which has been welcomed by Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, could cost sports' governing bodies hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues as they would have to sell their program rights to free-to-air broadcasters such as the BBC, Five and ITV, instead of the far more lucrative contracts they currently enjoy with pay TV broadcaster BSkyB.

The report was prepared for the government by former director of the Football Association David Davies, and its recommendations will form the basis of a 12-week consultation period after which the government will finalize its decision.

Announcing the report, Davies said the recommendations would prove "challenging" for sports' bodies, but that his role had been to look "beyond the interests of any one sport, and assess the events that really matter to society in the modern age.

"I believe our report is challenging for the sports governing bodies, the broadcasters and the Government. But unashamedly it puts the viewing public first," he said.

The report was welcomed by the broadcasters including the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV, but has been denounced as "disastrous" by Giles Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales cricket board, who said it heralded a "decade of decay" for the sport and would impact grass roots cricket funding and training.

Andy Hunt, the chief executive of the British Olympic Association, said he was "extremely surprised and disappointed" that the report exempted the Winter Olympics from the list, while the International Rugby board warned of "negative consequences for the sport at all levels" if the recommendations were implemented.

But Culture and Media Secretary Ben Bradshaw said it was crucial to give everyone access to sports events that meant most to the nation.

"Sport is a key element in our national identity, part of the glue that binds us together as a society," he said.

"We want to ensure that everyone has access to the sports events that matter most to the nation," Bradshaw concluded.