Serious questions have been raised about the lack of rigour in the nine-month enquiry into Britain’s list of “protected” free-to-air sports events, which last month saw the chairman of the independent review panel, David Davies, deliver a 110-page report for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
The headline-grabbing recommendation of the committee was to put Ashes cricket back on free-to-air – despite the BBC’s evidence to Davies’s team expressing its disinterest in broadcasting Test cricket, and the England and Wales Cricket Board estimating that any such re-listing of the Ashes could cost the game Â£100 million in lost TV fees from current rights-holders Sky.
Two less reported recommendations of the Davies committee – which was made up of the likes of Eamonn Holmes, Dougie Donnelly and Colin Jackson – were the de-listing of the Winter Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.
Yet the quality of evidence on those events reviewed by Davies’s panel was dire.
Neither the Commonwealth Games Federation nor their global television rights sales agents, Fast Track, were called to give evidence to the panel nor did they submit any written evidence to Davies’s committee. Nor did England, Scotland or other home nations’ Commonwealth Games federations, with the exception of Guernsey, offer their views.
There was one written evidence submission apparently on behalf of Commonwealth Games England, although that was signed by one Martin Webb, “Pools Manager for Tendring District Council” in Essex.
For the record, both Guernsey and Webb recommended keeping the Commonwealth Games as a free-to-air event, maintaining a status quo to guarantee coverage for sports that do not have the broadcasting clout of football, cricket or rugby.
Organisers of the 2014 Commonwealth Games might have wished that Davies and his team had listened to that advice, since the recommendation to de-list the Games, if accepted by the Secretary of States, Ben Bradshaw, after a three-month consultation period, could cost Glasgow dear.
Glasgow’s bid for the 2014 Games was based on the BBC being host broadcaster and, in return for those services, taking the domestic TV rights, just as was done in 1970, 1986 and 2002.
But without the compulsion of being on British TV sport’s “Crown Jewels” list, the BBC may take a different view of the value of the Commonwealth Games, while the Glasgow organisers could face a much bigger bill from production companies than the Â£19.3 million allowed for in the budget.
â€œWhat theyâ€™ve done with the list changes the perspective for the 2014 Games entirely,â€œ Gordon Arthur, Glasgow 2014â€™s spokesman, told sportsjournalists.co.uk. â€œIn theory, it opens up the opportunity for discussions with a satellite broadcaster.â€
Arthur believes that Glasgow 2014 probably has an 18-month window to discuss its broadcasting strategy, although he gives the impression that his organisationâ€™s best hope is that a general election might see the Davies report left to gather dust under a different administration.
â€œWe need to spend some time re-examining some of the principles we laid down when bidding, when we made certain assumptions about broadcasting based on the BBC providing host broadcasting services and taking the domestic rights,” Arthur said.
â€œWe now need to ask: what will it cost? What would our rights be worth?
â€œWe still want the Glasgow Commonwealth Games to be accessible to as many people as possible, and our view has been that the BBC is best placed to act as host broadcaster and that domestically, the BBC is the right programme maker.â€
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