Labour's football forum falls foul of Sky's fury

SKY TELEVISION has withdrawn thousands of pounds of funding for a football forum for MPs at this year's Labour Party conference because the satellite broadcaster was refused permission to buy Manchester United, according to the forum's organiser.

Joe Ashton, MP for Bassetlaw, in Nottinghamshire, who is the chairman of the Parliamentary All Party Football Group, has written to his members to tell them that their popular annual gathering has been cancelled because Sky has ceased funding the event.

"We were led to believe that Sky would not welcome a request for sponsorship this year," Mr Ashton wrote. The annual forum, which Sky has sponsored for three years, involves prominent figures from the game debating issues with group members and conference delegates.

Mr Ashton said yesterday: "This year, because our group stopped the Sky takeover of Manchester United, the unofficial word came back from Sky that it [the forum] wouldn't be funded." When Sky first launched its bid to take over Manchester United last year, Mr Ashton wrote to Peter Mandelson, then the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and urged him to oppose the bid on behalf of the group. Mr Ashton also persuaded 153 members of the Commons and Lords to sign an early-day motion to refer to the bid to the Competition Commission.

He said that he found out in June that Sky was unwilling to fund the forum, and preparations were too advanced to find a new sponsor.

Last night a Sky spokesman said: "Sky will still be involved in events at both the Labour and Conservative Party conferences. There will still be a football forum, organised by the Football Trust, and sponsored by Sky Sports." But Mr Ashton countered: "That's hardly the same [as the usual forum]. It's a fringe event, held in a school."

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