BBC serves Wimbledon winner

TELEVISION coverage of Wimbledon is to stay with the BBC.

The All England Lawn Tennis Club has decided to continue its 'long and successful relationship' exclusively with the corporation until 1999, it was announced yesterday.

Rupert Murdoch's British Sky Broadcasting was the only other real contender -but it was, in effect, excluded by the tender document, which insisted on live transmission going to a terrestrial channel. BSkyB did not therefore bid.

After acquiring the rights to the Five Nations rugby championship and the TCCB cricket contracts, the BBC said it had secured a sporting hat-trick by seeing off rivals from satellite and cable television.

Christopher Gorringe, chief executive of the All England Club, said the club wanted the championships to be available to as wide an audience as possible.

'Our long and successful relationship with the BBC has resulted in a style of coverage which accurately interprets and represents the unique culture and heritage of the championships,' he added.

Will Wyatt, managing director of BBC Network Television, described the news as a 'tremendous vote of confidence in the BBC, guaranteeing access until the end of the century to the entire viewing public'.

Jonathan Martin, BBC television's head of sports and events, added: 'This has always been one of our most important sporting contracts. Wimbledon is the world's most prestigious tennis event, as well as a national institution bringing pleasure to millions each summer.'

Competition had meant that terrestial television lost the overseas Test matches, premiership football and the Ryder Cup. That happened in spite of the 1990 Broadcasting Act, which sought to ensure that everyone could see major sporting events by banning exclusive rights to eight events, including Wimbledon, being sold to pay-per- view television channels.

That did not include BSkyB, a subscription channel, whose five-year Premier League deal caused uproar. Fears that BSkyB could do the same with the Grand National or Wimbledon led the National Heritage select committee to recommend rewording the Act.

The BBC will broadcast live matches from start of play until 8pm each day, followed by the nightly highlights programme Today at Wimbledon. The All England club will continue to offer highlights and delayed rights to satellite and cable broadcasters.