Free-to-air Ashes decision before election

A decision on whether Ashes cricket returns to free-to-air television as one of British sport's 'crown jewels' will be taken before the general election, the Government said today.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has provisionally accepted the recommendations of an inquiry into TV sport led by David Davies, the former executive director of the Football Association.

His final decision on whether to accept new events on to the list of those which must be available for free will be made shortly after the consultation ends in March, junior minister Sion Simon told MPs.

The inquiry led by Davies recommended adding the home Ashes series against Australia, England's football tournament qualifying matches, golf's Open Championship, Wimbledon and the Rugby World Cup to the list of protected events.

The proposals have caused concern to some governing bodies, including the England and Wales Cricket Board, which has warned the loss of revenue from the sale of broadcasting rights to prestigious events could hit funding for grassroots sport.

During a debate in Parliament's Westminster Hall, Mr Simon said: "The Secretary of State has provisionally concluded to accept the recommendations in the report but he is going to consider the implications on sporting bodies and grassroots sport and he has not reached any final views."

Pressed on the timing of the decision, Mr Simon added: "The Secretary of State firmly intends to make an announcement on this before the election even though the consultation process doesn't close until the first week of March.

"It's a tight timetable to do a proper job but that's clearly his intention."

Labour's John Grogan (Selby), a long-standing campaigner for wider access to televised sport, said governing bodies should accept that if they receive public money then their major events should be shown for free.

"If the governing bodies believe in an entirely free market approach, why are they receiving public money? You can't have it both ways.

"If hard-pressed taxpayers and lottery players are funding the sports, should they not be able to see some of the events on free-to-air TV?"