Test cricket may go to satellite TV

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The Independent Online
Test matches could move to satellite television as a result of a government announcement that cricket will not be among the main core of sports supported by its new academy of sporting excellence.

Last night the Government promised to consider proposals from the England Cricket Board for it to raise money by negotiating its own television deals. This could be looked at as part of consultations on which sports should stay on terrestrial television.

The move came after Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, decided that the new academy should concentrate on Olympic sports and on minority games.

It is bound to cause fury among fans, who have seen most other major sports transferred from terrestrial television to Sky Television. Test cricket matches are among the few big events still shown live on BBC television, and are included on a government list of events which must be shown on terrestrial channels.

Last night, Mr Smith's department did not attempt to rule out such a move or dampen speculation. A spokeswoman said that if the ECB made a formal request for freedom to strike its own deals, it would be looked at as part of a review which had already been announced.

Earlier, Lord MacLaurin, chairman of the cricket board, said if his game was not to be covered by the academy then it should be given other freedoms, such as being able to negotiate its own television contracts. "If the Government says they are not going to help us through the academy and other things, then fine - just take us off the list of events. They can't have their cake and eat it," he said on the BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend programme.

On the same programme, Mr Smith said he would be keen to discuss with Lord MacLaurin the ways in which cricket could be assisted. However, the new academy should help mainly those sports in the greatest need. "Where is it that in terms of international competition we aren't shining our brightest at the moment as a country? Where do our top athletes really need the support? That I think is in the Olympic sports and the non-commercial areas," he said.

The pounds 100m national facility will be funded from the proceeds of the National Lottery. Mr Smith is expected to announce at the end of next month which of three proposed sites - Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire, Gamston in Nottinghamshire and Sheffield - will host its headquarters.

The decision, which will cut out cricket, rugby and football, drew criticism from the Conservatives who accused the Government of having an antipathy to team sports. A Tory spokes-man said: "Our concept was to promote sporting excellence generally, and we think that is in tune with what people want."

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