New campaign to screen Scotland’s top international football matches free on TV
Herald Scotland, by Andrew Whitaker
The UK’s sport minister is under pressure to ensure that all of Scotland’s competitive international football matches are shown for free on terrestrial TV.
Campaigners have previously said the European Union should use its powers to draw up a list of top sporting events – the so-called ‘crown jewels’ – which are deemed to be of major importance to society and should therefore be broadcast on free-to-air TV.
However, Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray said that as Brexit was "inevitable" the UK Government had to find other ways to look at how Scotland’s games could be shown free on TV, without the public having to pay to view on channels like Sky.
Murray, who supports EU membership, said the move was needed because many Scots miss out on seeing the games due to Sky holding the rights to qualifiers for the national side’s competitive fixtures.
Live coverage of England’s qualifiers for Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup will be aired on free-to-air television as ITV has retained exclusive rights.
However, Sky Sports has bought the rights for all international qualifying matches involving Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Wales during the same period.
Murray said the UK’s sport minister Tracey Crouch should use her powers over broadcasting to examine what options there are for returning all Home Nation games to terrestrial TV.
He suggested the UK government should add Scotland’s football qualifiers to its own list of events that are reserved for terrestrial TV, which include the football World Cup finals and the Wimbledon tennis finals.
Murray also said The Open golf championship should come back to free-to-air TV after Sky was awarded a contract for the event, which next takes place at Carnoustie in July next year.
The Edinburgh South MP said: "We should look at options for returning the crown jewels of sports coverage to free to air TV. There is a commercial consideration for the governing bodies of sports and the funding stream they get from broadcasting rights deals, but we have a situation where sporting success is being viewed by fewer and fewer people each year because of affordability.
"The Open is no longer on BBC live for example and it’s awful that you can’t turn on the TV and watch it in the way you used to. Governments and governing bodies should look at what they can do to allow games to be on free-to-air TV.
"It’s inevitable that we are leaving the EU, so the Department of Culture, Media and Sport should look at what options there are now whether it’s legislation or other measures."
Last night Labour MP John Grogan, a longstanding campaigner for free-to-air sports broadcasting, backed Murray’s call.
Grogan, the MP for Keighley in West Yorkshire, said: “In or out of Europe the qualifying matches of the Scottish national football team should be on free-to-air TV as happens now with the national teams of France, Denmark and Germany.
“In 2018 it is absurd that the Open Golf Championship at Carnoustie will be hidden behind a pay wall. The next generation of Scots, whether their parents can afford pay TV or not, need to be inspired by seeing sporting stars performing at the top events.”
Critics have said Murray’s proposal would starve sport governing bodies, such as the Scottish Football Association, of the cash from contracts with Sky that are worth tens of millions of pounds to the sport, including revenue that is made available to grassroots clubs.
The UK Government confirmed it had no plans to add international football matches and The Open to its own list of events that are reserved for terrestrial TV.
Other protected events include the the FA Cup final, the Grand National, the Olympic Games and the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final.
A Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: "We currently have no plans to review the list. Negotiations on television rights are a matter for the sports authorities and broadcasters."