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FA ‘likely to suspend’ 3pm blackout if coronavirus crisis worsens

English football’s governing body, the FA, is likely to suspend the country’s Saturday afternoon broadcasting black-out rule in the event the coronavirus crisis forces matches to be played behind closed doors, according to the Times newspaper.

A suspension of the rule would mean that matches in the Premier League and English Football League played at 3pm would be available for broadcast. These matches would then be broadcast for free, according to the report.

Should the blackout legislation be lifted, then EFL matches could be made available on the League’s iFollow OTT platform.

The Premier League could ask pay-television broadcasters Sky and BT Sport to show the matches on a decrypted signal. But the broadcasters would be expected to block coverage in pubs to prevent fans congregating in those premises.

Both the FA and the Scottish Football Association implement the blackout legislation that is part of the statutes of Uefa, European football’s governing body. The legislation is also observed in Montenegro. The ruling forbids live broadcasts of domestic or foreign matches between 2:45pm and 5:15pm on Saturdays as a measure to protect attendances at domestic matches.

In 2018, the subscription broadcaster Eleven Sports protested against the legislation by streaming live coverage of Saturday-afternoon LaLiga matches to UK viewers.

The FA joins governing bodies around the world in grappling for a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Recently, Lega Serie A, the operating body of the top division of Italian club football, and domestic rights-holder, pay-television broadcaster Sky Italia, hit out at comments by Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora criticising the lack of free-to-air access to matches amid the crisis. The Italian government last week ordered all sporting events in the country to take place without spectators and behind closed doors until April 3.