Government rejects call to add Six Nations to ‘crown jewel’ broadcast list
The Government has rejected a select committee’s call to add the Six Nations to the ‘crown jewel’ list of sports events which must be offered for live free-to-air broadcast.
The Welsh Affairs Committee had called for the annual rugby tournament to be added to Group A of the listed events schedule.
Where live rights for a Group A event, such as the Olympic or Paralympic Games, are made available, public service broadcasters must be given the opportunity to purchase the rights on fair and reasonable terms, though there is no obligation on broadcasters to purchase the rights or on rights holders to accept any offer from those broadcasters.
The Six Nations is a Group B event, where there is only a provision for highlights to be made available to free-to-air broadcasters.
To date the event has nevertheless always been on free-to-air television, but there is uncertainty over what will happen when the BBC and ITV’s current deal runs out at the end of the 2025 tournament.
The Government has now indicated there are no plans to look again at the schedule.
“The Government believes that the current list of events works well to deliver the best outcome and that it strikes an appropriate balance and therefore we have no plans to undertake a full review of the list,” its response to the Welsh Affairs Committee stated.
“Listing an event in either Group A or B does not guarantee that an event will be broadcast or available free-to-air. Rights holders are not required to sell rights to listed events and broadcasters are not obliged to purchase them or to show the events.
“The legislation sets out to ensure that where live rights to a Group A listed event are made available, they must be offered for purchase by a qualifying service – it does not require that a qualifying service is the final purchaser.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport added: “The listed events regime aims to ensure many of the nation’s biggest sporting events are free-to-air wherever possible while protecting competition organisers’ ability to raise income from the sale of broadcast rights to invest in their sports.
“We believe the current list strikes an appropriate balance, with protections in place for highlights of the Six Nations tournament and live coverage of the Rugby World Cup final, and therefore have no plans to amend the regime.”
The BBC’s outgoing director of sport Barbara Slater told MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport select committee in November that her network may no longer be able to afford to keep its share of the rights alongside ITV.
The chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Stephen Crabb, said: “Welsh broadcasting is a major success and can attract international partners to invest and produce high quality programming that can be enjoyed by international audiences.
“But as our Committee made clear in October, broadcasting in Wales can be even better, including the protection and provision of more Welsh language content and securing major sporting events free-to-air.
“While it is of course disappointing that the UK Government does not feel it necessary to amend the listed events to include the Six Nations, the general support it is offering to the Welsh broadcasting sector is warmly welcomed.”
This year’s Six Nations gets under way on February 2 when France host Ireland in Paris.
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