Labour government would seek change to UK listed sports events

The UK’s Labour party has said it will look to revise the current ‘crown jewels’ legislation governing sporting events reserved for broadcast on free-to-air television by adding more women’s sport and the Paralympic Games.

In a speech to the British Screen Advisory Council on Thursday, Tom Watson, Shadow Culture Secretary, said a Labour government will review the list and look to diversify the events included.

Current legislation stipulates events such as the Olympic Games, men’s Fifa World Cup, Wimbledon tennis championships and football’s FA Cup final must be broadcast on linear channels that are available to 95 per cent of the population.

The so-called ‘crown jewels’ events are also underpinned by a voluntary code established in 2009. Two separate lists (Category A and B), reserved for events with “special national resonance”, were last updated in 2000 and the current Conservative government last summer confirmed it has no plans to look at them again.

Category A events are those to which live rights must be offered to free-to-air broadcasters at a fair and reasonable cost. They include: the Olympic Games; men’s Fifa World Cup; Uefa European Championships; FA Cup final; Scottish Cup final (in Scotland); Grand National; Derby; Wimbledon finals; Challenge Cup final; and Rugby World Cup final.

Category B, for which only highlights are protected for free-to-air coverage, includes: cricket Test matches played in England; non-finals matches at Wimbledon; all other matches at the Rugby World Cup; Six Nations games involving home countries; Commonwealth Games; World Athletics Championships; the final, semi-final and matches involving ‘home nations’ at the Cricket World Cup; Ryder Cup; and Open Championship.

Watson argued that the likes of the Women’s Fifa World Cup and the Paralympics are ‘crown jewel’ events, but at the moment do not have equal status with other sporting events that are included on the list.

He also pointed to the growing popularity of key women’s sporting events and the danger that, without action, this could be affected if the rights were bought by pay-television broadcasters. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has the power to amend the list.

England’s victory over Scotland in the two nations’ opening match at the Women’s World Cup in France on Sunday attracted a peak audience of 6.1 million television viewers on public-service broadcaster the BBC and a 37.8% share of the available audience. The figures marked a record for a women’s football match in the UK.

Watson said: “The current list is out of date and it’s Government’s job to make sure that the list of key events showcases all the best of British talent, right across our society. The huge viewing figures for the England v Scotland game show how popular women’s sport is and why it’s so important to keep these key events free to air.

“Events like the Women’s World Cup and the Paralympics are crown jewel sporting events. It is time we give them the status, recognition, and protection they deserve.”

UK public-service broadcaster the BBC has previously called on the country’s government to update listed-events law to reflect the modern age. Terrestrial broadcasters are said to fear a sharp drop in television ownership in the coming years,  in favour of mobile and tablets, which could lead to their channels falling below the 95 per cent threshold.