Ban on web coverage of cricket World Cup

By Steven Downes
Over-by-over internet coverage of next year’s cricket World Cup in the West Indies could be under threat from new rules issued by the International Cricket Council.

Many national newspapers and other publishers with internet outlets have built up large and dedicated online audiences with their often off-beat coverage of Test cricket, usually written not at the venue, but from an office by a staffer on the sports desk following television and radio coverage.

But as television and other broadcast and internet rights become ever more competitive, and their revenues all the more vital, so the ICC has opted to tighten its control of World Cup rights in a move not dissimilar to that applied by the International Olympic Committee since 2000.

The ICC’s terms and conditions for journalists covering the World Cup states that news organisations offering over-by-over coverage could lose ther press accreditations altogether.

The ICC rules state: “For the avoidance of doubt, ball-by-ball and over-by-over updates for transmission via the radio, the internet or via any form of mobile device (including mobile telephones) or other related devices from within the ground are strictly prohibited.”

The ICC then states that its agency handling rights issues “…may in its sole discretion revoke the accreditation of any accredited party and/or their employer offering and/or undertaking the same off tube from outside the grounds”.

With Hutchison’s 3 mobile network investing large sums in its purchase of the rights for the current Ashes Test series in Australia, it seems inevitable that the ICC would ultimately move to protect the rights for its member boards, broadcasters and other partners.

For instance, Cricket Australia has launched its own online TV service for the Ashes to offer paid-for video streaming and commentary to serve those territories which do not have television coverage of the series. The live streaming service is priced at £2.58 per match to £13 for all the Tests. Highlights are also available on the 3 mobile phone network.

As such, Cricket Australia is in direct competition for customers in Europe, Africa and South America with the likes of the BBC, Guardian Unlimited and Times Online, all of whom are offering free over-by-over reports.

Cricket Australia even extended its “rights area” from the field of play and into the post-match press conferences for the Ashes Tests, preventing correspondents from non-Australian newspapers from creating any audio-visual content for use on the internet.

It is a business model which the ICC clearly is looking to protect ahead of the World Cup, especially given the continuing financial concerns surrounding the commercial outlook for the tournament in the Caribbean.

“These are Draconian restrictions on press freedom and the ability of publishers and editors to inform their readers,” Steve Oram, the director of the Newspaper Publishers Association, and chairman of the sports rights working group at the World Association of Newspapers, told The Guardian.

“It is dangerous in terms of precedent but perhaps more sinister is that increasing controls interfere with press freedom by controlling what newspapers can or can’t say,” said Mr Oram.

Talks are already underway with the International Rugby Board over web coverage and rights issues at the rugby World Cup in France next year.