Rugby World Cup TV decision delayed
July 21, 2010
The decision on free to air rights has been delayed © Getty Images
A decision on whether the Rugby World Cup tournament will be included on a new protected list of free-to-air sporting events in the UK has been postponed.
Sports and Olympics minister Hugh Robertson has revealed that there will be no changes to the listed events - that currently include the Rugby World Cup Final and not the preceding games - until after the completion of digital switchover in 2012.
In November 2009 an independent review, headed by former Football Association executive director David Davies, suggested that the entire Rugby World Cup tournament and Wales' Six Nations games (in Wales) be placed onto the protected list, along with Ashes cricket, England's home and away football qualifiers, the Open Championship and Wimbledon. At present, the Rugby World Cup pool games and the early knock-out stages fall under the 'Group B' heading, meaning that only highlights must be provided on free-to-air television.
"I fully support the principle of protecting major sports events for free-to-air coverage," Robertson said. "But with Digital Switchover concluding in 2012, this will result in the widespread availability of a significantly-increased number of television channels, many of which will be free to air.
"Add to this the BBC's Strategy Review, which will cover sports rights, and the Ofcom Pay TV Review, and the broadcasting context for this decision is increasingly unclear. The current economic climate also points to us not making a decision at this time which could adversely impact on sport at the grassroots. I have therefore decided to defer any review until 2013, when we will look at this again."
Martyn Thomas, Chairman of the Management Board of the Rugby Football Union, commented, "The Rugby Football Union welcomes DCMS's decision to defer the listed events review until 2013. It was always our view, and that of other rugby authorities affected, that the existing model allowed us to invest the most amount of money back into the community game.
"At the same time the RFU is always aware of the need for the widest possible opportunity for our supporters to watch and enjoy rugby on TV and on the new digital channels to which the Minister referred. Rugby authorities will continue to work with our broadcast partners to optimise the balance between exposure and investment in the best interests of the game across the UK."
The International Rugby Board have previously demanded that tournament broadcasters have an "ability to reach a national audience" and when putting the RWC'11 and RWC'15 tournament out to tender in the UK earlier this year they demanded that interested organisations also illustrate that they have, "the necessary stature, experience and financial resources."
Such a stance has seen every previous World Cup broadcast on free-to-air TV in the UK and would appear to favour terrestrial broadcasters and rule satellite, digital and other subscription services out of the equation even if legislation opened the door to a bid.
In contrast, only highlights from those Six Nations Championship matches featuring the Home Nations are currently protected by the same legislation with no proposed change to its status in the pipeline. However the BBC, a free-to-air broadcaster, currently has an exclusive deal with the Six Nations Committee that they recently extended to include every Championship up to and including 2013.
Current listed sporting events:
Group A: (complete live coverage protected)
Group B: (Only highlights on on free-to-air TV)
* - Group B would be scrapped under the re-vamped protected list.
Proposed listed sporting events: Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup finals, UEFA European Championship finals, Grand National, FA Cup Final (England, Wales and Northern Ireland only), Scottish FA Cup Final(Scotland), Home and away football qualifiers for World Cup and European Championship (listed only in home nation to which they relate), Wimbledon Championships (in its entirety), Open Championship, Cricket's home Ashes Test matches, Rugby World Cup tournament, Wales matches in Six Nations (in Wales only)
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