Now Murdoch may grab the Lord's Test for satellite TV

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The Independent Online
CRICKET lovers may soon have to subscribe to satellite or cable television to watch live coverage of home England Test matches. So will many other armchair sports fans if the Government decides to follow the recommendations of an independent working party published yesterday.

In what would be a blow for some "free-to-air" terrestrial broadcasters but a major financial boon for sports, the advisory group is prepared to give BSkyB the chance to seize many of the so-called "crown jewels of sport", including all Wimbledon matches apart from the finals and semi-finals.

It would also lower the protection for the football World Cup finals after the tournament in France this summer, but it would guarantee the terrestrials more access to the European soccer championships.

John Grogan, Labour MP for Selby, condemned the report as being "full of contradictions" and of representing "a caving in to the demands of satellite broadcasters and the English Cricket Board". He added: "Live sport is what inspires future generations and quickens the pulse. If the advisory group is accepted, there will be a potentially much less live action on terrestrial TV. Domestic matches and all but a handful of World Cup matches could disappear from the screen apart from a short package of late night highlights."

The group - whose members included Jack Charlton, Steve Cram and Michael Parkinson - is advocating that the list of protected events should be split into two tiers. Terrestrials would get live coverage of a shortened A list and would have to make do with highlights or deferred coverage of those in the B list.

The report was welcomed yesterday by Claire Ward, Labour MP for Watford and a member of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee. "It recognises ... that sport has become much more commercial in nature and a great deal of advancement and progress in sport is based on funding they receive from selling the rights to broadcasting," she said.

"While recognising that some will feel the move on Test cricket is a great shame, I'm not sure any of our public service or free-to-air broadcasters can justify what is effectively 25 days of one sport being broadcast."

Simon Johnson, ITV's head of business affairs, took a similarly pragmatic view: "We're slightly disappointed the Government hasn't left the list as it was, but we've never relied on government legislation to do our negotiation for us," he said.

Reducing the number of listed events reserved for terrestrial broadcasters seems certain to anger many sports fans, who will resent having to pay for the right to watch events which have traditionally been screened by the BBC and ITV.

Recommendations of the independent working party on which sports should be screened free by terrestrial channels (Group A) and those which are open to bids from satellite and cable companies (Group B):

Group A (Full Live Coverage Protected)

Olympic Games Fifa World Cup Finals (final, semi-finals and matches involving Home Nations); European Football Championships (final, semi-finals and matches involving home nations); FA Cup Final, Scottish FA Cup Final (in Scotland); Wimbledon (finals weekend); the Grand National; the Derby.

Group B (Secondary Coverage Protected)

Fifa World Cup Finals (all matches not included above); European Football Championships (all matches not included above); Fifa World Cup qualifying matches involving home nations; European Football Championships qualifying matches involving home nations; Five Nations Rugby Tournament; Rugby World Cup (final, semi-finals and matches involving home nations); Test Matches involving England; Cricket World Cup (final, semi- finals and matches involving home nations); Wimbledon (all play other than finals weekend); Commonwealth Games; world athletics championship; and for golf - the Open and the Ryder Cup.

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