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Labour makes Cricket World Cup free-to-air TV pledge

England celebrate their victory after the Final of the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup (by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Labour has said the Cricket World Cup will be added to the UK’s ‘crown jewel’ list of sporting events reserved for broadcast on free-to-air television, if the party returns to power in next month’s general election.

Labour made the pledge in its manifesto for the general election, scheduled for December 12, continuing ongoing debate over the legislation which governs the broadcast of sports events in the UK.

Within the 107-page manifesto document, Labour took the not-unusual approach of using the free-to-air sport promise to galvanise some voters. The document read: “Sport enriches our lives, binds communities together and helps us all to stay healthy. We will add the ICC Cricket World Cup to the list of crown jewel sporting events that are broadcast free-to-air.”

BBC, the public-service broadcaster, televised the last free-to-air World Cup in 1999, and cricket coverage in the UK returned to the agenda over the summer as England triumphed in its home World Cup. The final of the World Cup gained a peak viewing audience of 4.47 million on Channel 4 following the commercial broadcaster’s deal with pay-television broadcaster Sky Sports for the final.

Rights-holder Sky showed the final on its basic-tier Sky One channel as well as its premium Main Event and Cricket channels. Nearly 4 million viewers watched across these three Sky channels. Labour’s promise follows a recent appearance by senior executives from the England and Wales Cricket Board before the government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, where free-to-air access to cricket was a key topic.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn last month pledged that his party would ensure that the Premier League will invest five per cent of the income it receives for broadcast rights into grassroots football and add women’s sporting events including the Fifa World Cup to the list of key events to be broadcast free-to-air, should it form a government in the UK.

In September, Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, reopened the discussion over the crown jewels list by stating that Paralympic and women’s sport deserve “equal recognition”.

Addressing the Royal Television Conference in her first major speech in the role, Morgan stated that while the government had no intention to undertake a full review, the Listed Events regime does need to be reviewed.

In June, Labour said it would look to revise the current legislation by adding more women’s sport and the Paralympic Games. In a speech to the British Screen Advisory Council, Tom Watson, Shadow Culture Secretary, said a Labour government will review the list and look to diversify the events included.

Current legislation stipulates events such as the Olympic Games, men’s Fifa World Cup, Wimbledon and football’s men’s FA Cup final must be broadcast on linear channels that are available to 95 per cent of the population.

The so-called ‘crown jewel’ events are also underpinned by a voluntary code established in 2009. Two separate lists (Category A and B), reserved for events with “special national resonance”, were last updated in 2000.

Category A events are those to which live rights must be offered to free-to-air broadcasters at a fair and reasonable cost. They include: the Olympic Games; men’s Fifa World Cup; Uefa European Championships; FA Cup final; Scottish Cup final (in Scotland); Grand National; Derby; Wimbledon finals; Challenge Cup final; and Rugby World Cup final.

Category B, for which only highlights are protected for free-to-air coverage, includes: cricket Test matches played in England; non-finals matches at Wimbledon; all other matches at the Rugby World Cup; Six Nations games involving home countries; Commonwealth Games; World Athletics Championships; the final, semi-final and matches involving ‘home nations’ at the Cricket World Cup; Ryder Cup; and Open Championship.

Following England’s staging of the 2019 World Cup, the next edition of the International Cricket Council’s showpiece tournament is due to take place in India in 2023.