Green MSP calls for return of free-to-air TV broadcasts of Scotland matches ahead of Auld enemy clash

Green MSP calls for return of free-to-air TV broadcasts of Scotland matches ahead of Auld enemy clash
Herald Scotland, by Andrew Whitaker


Scotland football matches should be shown on free-to-air television, a Green MSP argued ahead of this week’s World Cup qualifier with England.


Lothians MSP Alison Johnstone said the Scottish Football Association (SFA) should sign a deal with a free-to-air broadcaster to allow more fans to watch Scotland attempt to qualify for a major tournament.


Scotland’s game with the Auld Enemy at Wembley on Friday will screen live on STV, but only because of the English FA’s broadcast agreement with sister channel ITV.


She said the move was needed because many low-income Scots miss out on seeing the games due to Sky Sports holding the rights to qualifiers for the national side’s competitive fixtures, including the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.


Satellite broadcasting giant Sky was awarded the contract to show all of Scotland’s home and away qualifying games in both the 2016 European Championship and the 2018 World Cup, which are now centrally marketed by Uefa.


The matches are the first time the two sides have met in a competitive fixture since a Europan championship qualifier in November 1999, when Scotland were defeated by England 2-1 on aggregate over a two-legged tie.


Johnstone said the absence of Scotland’s competitive home matches from free-to-air TV was harming the development of football in Scotland by denying children from poorer backgrounds the chance to watch the national side in live action.


She said: “More and more sport is moving to subscription-based TV channels. The BBC lost rights to show the Open golf to Sky and punters wanting to watch European football have to tune in to BT Sport for the Champions League and the Europa League.


“Fans shouldn’t feel like they have to fork out large sums of money to pay for sports channels, nor should they feel the need to cram into a pub just to see a game. It’s understandable that the SFA will want to do a deal with the highest bidder, but considering England qualifiers are shown for free on ITV, there’s no reason why Scotland games can’t be shown on one or more terrestrial channels.


“We want children in Scotland to be inspired by the athletes they see on TV and a deal for future qualification matches on terrestrial could help us to produce the next Kenny Dalglish or Denis Law. At the very least, it’ll encourage more children to go outside, kick a ball and play with friends.”


She went on to call for powers over broadcasting rights for sport to be devolved from Westminster to Holyrood to allow the Scottish Government to draw up a list of sporting or cultural events – their “Crown Jewels” – which are of major importance to society, to be broadcast on free-to-air TV, such as The Open and international football.


Johnstone said: “Ofcom’s code on designated live sports events rightly lists the World Cup and the European Championship finals as must-show games on terrestrial TV. It would be better if it was MSPs, rather than MPs, deciding what goes on that list and I suspect many at Holyrood would support free-to-air Scotland games if the ability to do so is devolved.”


Critics have said the proposal to protect major sporting for terrestrial TV, which was considered by the last UK Labour government, would starve Scottish football of the cash from lucrative contracts with Sky that are worth tens of millions of pounds to the sport, including revenue that is made available to grassroots clubs.


An SFA spokesperson, in response to Johnstone, said: "Our rights are negotiated by EUFA through centralisation, which has been effective since 2012.


"We are committed to making football as accessible to as many supporters as possible, but as a governing body we also have commercial considerations and our members are grateful to the rights holders for continued investment in Scottish football."