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Welsh Minister wants free-to-air protection for Six Nations

Welsh Culture and Sports Minister Ken Stakes has called upon the UK government to press for the Six Nations rugby union championship to remain protected as a free-to-air television event.

Stakes has written to Culture Secretary John Whittingdale in an effort to ensure the event remains on terrestrial television.

UK public-service broadcaster the BBC currently holds the rights in the UK to the Six Nations, with its deal set to end after the 2017 edition.

Six Nations chief executive John Feehan said in January that the championship could consider offers for the next set of rights from pay-television broadcasters, given how critical the revenue generated by the tournament is to the ‘home unions’.

However, according to the BBC, Stakes has warned that moving the Six Nations to pay-television could have a “very dangerous and damaging” impact on the future of the sport, with fewer young people in Wales having access to coverage of the event.

“Suddenly you're reducing the number of people watching the event, particularly young people who get inspired by watching the sport,” Skates said. “Short-term financial gain could cause longer term pain for those rugby clubs right across Wales who could see a drop-off in membership.”

Last month, the Irish government stepped up its own plans to protect Ireland’s games in the Six Nations for free-to-air television.

TheJournal.ie website said Minister for Communications Alex White launched a public consultation regarding the possible designation of Ireland’s Six Nations matches as one of three additional “events of major importance to society.”

Such a designation would ensure they remain available on a free-to-air basis for Irish television viewers under the Broadcasting Act 2009.