Ashes 2013: Cricket’s ruling body forced on defensive by Test Match Sofa


England may have retained the Ashes yesterday, but the euphoria was tempered by an unseemly legal row that sets the game’s governing body against one of the sport’s oldest magazines.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is being sued by the publisher of The Cricketer, which has accused the ECB of abusing its monopoly position to breach competition law, as part of a long-running spat over commentary rights.

Lawyers are challenging the ECB’s terms and conditions for accredited media following a row involving The Cricketer’s use of Twitter to promote its commentary website Test Match Sofa.

The controversial site – which styles itself as “the alternative cricket conversation” – has riled the distinguished team from Test Match Special (TMS), which pays for rights to cover the Ashes ball by ball on BBC Radio. “The Sofa” involves commentary from a team of cricket fanatics watching Sky Sports television coverage. Rory Bremner and the former England player John Emburey are among the former guests.

The Cricketer dates back to 1921, when it was founded by the great former England captain Sir Pelham “Plum” Warner, and was later edited by the doyen of cricket journalism, EW Swanton. But more lately it has acquired a black-sheep reputation and since it bought Test Match Sofa, early last year, it has become unpopular with the game’s grandees.

Before his death in January, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, himself a former editor of The Cricketer and senior member of the TMS team, even called for “The Sofa” to be closed down.

Another TMS star, Jonathan Agnew, said he would boycott the “once-great” magazine in protest at its stance.

The row erupted again during the first Ashes Test, at Trent Bridge, this summer when The Cricketer’s editor, Andrew Miller, tweeted a reference to “The Sofa”, which was deemed to be in breach of the ECB’s terms and conditions for its accredited cricket journalists. He was told not to tweet about the website or to provide it with coverage from the ground.

Subsequently The Cricketer did not attend the second Test, at Lord’s,  and Cricketer Publishing has now  commenced legal proceedings against the ECB.

Andy Afford, the publishing director of The Cricketer, insisted that it was not a threat to TMS. Nick Goldstone, a lawyer for London firm Davenport Lyons, which is representing The Cricketer, claimed that “the conduct of the ECB amounts to an abuse of dominant position” and was in breach of the Competition Act and European law.

But the ECB questioned the validity of The Cricketer’s complaints and said the magazine had chosen to decline accreditation for Lord’s but had signed up to attend Old Trafford. It noted that more than 700 journalists had been willing to sign up to its terms and accreditation conditions this summer.