Sky allowed to keep Ashes coverage until 2013

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Plans to reserve more of the so-called sporting "crown jewels" for free-to-air broadcasting was shelved yesterday until at least 2013 by Hugh Robertson, the sports minister.

The decision means that the rights to show the next home Ashes cricket matches between England and Australia in 2013 will continue to be held by Sky, despite the recommendation of a review by David Davies, the former FA chief executive.

Mr Robertson blamed the current economic crisis and the impending digital switchover as key reasons for delaying a decision on protecting major events and ensuring they are available to as many sports fans as possible through non-paid-for platforms such as those on the BBC, ITV or Channel 4.

Under rules drawn up in 1998, the FA Cup Final, Wimbledon finals and the Grand National are considered to have "special national resonance" and are guaranteed to be aired on terrestrial channels. A review conducted by Mr Davies last year recommended adding events such as the football World Cup and European Championship qualifiers, the Open golf championship and home Ashes test matches to the list, and dropping the winter Olympics, the Derby and rugby league Challenge Cup final.

In a written statement to the House of Commons, the sports minister said: "I fully support the principle of protecting major sports events for free-to-air coverage. But with digital switchover concluding in 2012, this will result in the widespread availability of a significantly increased number of television channels, many free-to-air."

The England and Wales Cricket Board has been one of the most vocal opponents to Mr Davies' proposals. Despite the number of viewers watching England's Ashes triumphs having falling from a high of 8 million in 2005 to just 1.5 million last year when shown on Sky, the Board derives 80 per cent of its income from selling rights. Sky, which is 39.1 per cent owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, paid £264m for the rights to show the series from 2010-13 but only reaches 10 million homes. But the cricket authorities believe the money is vital to grass-roots funding of the game.

Mr Robertson said he was also awaiting the outcome of the BBC's Strategy Review, which will cover sports rights, and the Ofcom Pay TV Review. But he was mindful of the impact further restrictions could have on up-and-coming talent. In a separate statement the minister said he wanted sports' governing bodies to pass on up to 30 per cent of their revenues from broadcasting deals to the grass roots of their games. Under a voluntary code of conduct, governing bodies, including the FA, Lawn Tennis Association and the England and Wales Cricket Board, have agreed to invest a minimum of 5 per cent to promote sport at the lowest level.