BBC steps up sports battle

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JOHN RENTOUL

Political Correspondent

The BBC is stepping up its campaign against Sky TV to build on the expected government defeat in the House of Lords today on an amendment to keep rights to top sporting events out of the clutches of Rupert Murdoch's satellite broadcasting company.

Buoyed by massive public support for keeping flagship events on the BBC or ITV, the BBC yesterday started a campaign to add rugby and golf to the list of protected events.

The Lords amendment to the Broadcasting Bill, backed by Labour, Liberal Democrats, most crossbenchers and several Conservatives, would stop Sky TV buying exclusive rights to a list of eight events - the Olympics, World Cup football, the FA Cup and Scottish FA Cup, domestic Test cricket matches, the Wimbledon Finals, the Grand National and the Derby.

With the measure now looking certain to pass both Houses, the BBC has begun to lobby for more events to be added to the protected list. "It is odd that there's no golf or rugby on the list," said Will Wyatt, managing director of BBC TV. Ryder Cup golf is already owned by Sky TV, which is also interested in Five Nations rugby.

The BBC yesterday published a poll of MPs which suggested the amendment to "save sport for the nation" would be carried overwhelmingly in the Commons if it passes the Lords.

Nearly all opposition MPs back the Lords amendment, but nearly half of Tory MPs (26 out of 55) also support measures "to ensure that major sporting events will continue to be shown on terrestrial TV channels", according to MORI.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, yesterday defended her decision to publish a discussion paper on sport on television. "We have set out the arguments involved, the balance of interests, and we hope in the coming weeks there will be detailed consideration given to this issue," she said.

Her discussion paper has been attacked for siding with Sky and using data from Sky company memorandums.

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