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Labour unveils plan to assign protected free-to-air status to major women's sporting events

Tom Watson, shadow culture secretary, to announce Labour’s plans to review and diversify list of sporting events which must be made available to free-to-air broadcasters

Samuel Lovett
Wednesday 12 June 2019 14:08 BST
England vs Scotland women's World Cup match has all women panel

Labour is to unveil plans to assign protected free-to-air status to major women’s sporting events, such as the Women’s World Cup, in a bid to bring parity between the UK’s coverage of men and women’s sports.

In a speech to the British Screen Advisory Council, Tom Watson, shadow culture secretary, will announce Labour’s intentions to review and diversify the current list of sporting events which must be made available to the main free-to-air terrestrial broadcasters.

Labour will also grant listed status to the Paralympics, which drew 28 million viewers across the UK for the 2016 Games.

Watson will insists that “crown jewel events”, such as the Women’s World Cup Final and the Paralympics, deserve equal “status” and “recognition” with other sporting events included on the list.

“The current list is out of date and it’s Government’s job to make sure that the list of key events showcases all the best of British talent, right across our society,” Watson will say.

“The huge viewing figures for the England Scotland game show how popular women’s sport is and why it’s so important to keep these key events free to air.

“Events like the Women’s World Cup and the Paralympics are crown jewel sporting events. It is time we give them the status, recognition, and protection they deserve.”

England’s opening match of the Women’s World Cup broke viewing records, with 6.1 million people tuning in to the BBC to watch the clash against Scotland.

There has been a growing interest in women’s sports among paid-for TV broadcasters, as seen with Sky’s four-deal for the TV rights to England Netball’s fixtures.

Labour has expressed its concern that, without the right action, the growing popularity of women’s sport could be stunted if the rights for major events are acquired by paid-for TV.

The men’s Open Championship had a peak audience of 4.7 million on the BBC in 2014 but this dropped by 75 per cent the following year when coverage rights were bought by Sky.

The current list of free-to-air sporting events has not been updated since 1998. In a Commons debate in July last year, the Government said that it did not plan to review this.

The broadcast rights to listed events must be offered to the main free-to-air terrestrial broadcasters on “fair and reasonable terms”. They are not obliged to bid for these rights, so it is possible that on some occasions listed events may not be shown by a qualifying broadcaster.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has said that a “listed event” is “one which is generally felt to have special national resonance” and which contains “an element which serves to unite the nation, a shared point on the national calendar, not solely of interest to those who follow the sport in question.”

The secretary of state can add and delete events from the list at any time, but only after consultation with the BBC, the Welsh Authority, the communications regulator Ofcom, and the holder of the rights for the event in question.

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