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Sport: Rugby League Challenge Cup Final

Volume 716: debated on Monday 11 January 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the proposal in the report by David Davies about whether the Rugby League Challenge Cup final should remain on free-to-air television.

Listing does not guarantee that an event will be shown live on free-to-air television. Similarly, excluding an event from the list does not mean that it will necessarily be lost to free-to-air television. However, no decisions will be made by the Secretary of State on which events should be included in any list until he has reviewed the material and views generated by the Government’s consultation, which ends in March.

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend for his Answer, I declare an interest as the chairman and now president of Warrington Wolves Rugby League Club, the proud owners of the Challenge Cup. I ask him to use his influence to ensure that the event remains on free-to-air television as it is a spectacle that is enjoyed equally by people in the north and the south. They find it thrilling and exciting. I speak not only for myself and the Rugby League authorities but for all supporters of Rugby League.

My Lords, I am not at all surprised that my noble friend has raised this issue at this opportune time. He will know that representations are being made to the department on exactly that point. He will also recognise that the criteria involve not just the appeal of the programme to loyal fans but its national significance. I have no doubt that my noble friend is working on that case strenuously, too.

My Lords, I declare an interest, first as chairman of the Football League and secondly as deputy chairman of England’s 2018 World Cup bid. What is the Government’s estimate of how long privately owned and funded media outlets will continue to enhance British sport if they are prevented from covering some of the major events in the calendar?

My Lords, the noble Lord is well placed to know the significance of sport on television. Indeed, he knows that private companies in the past have valued these sports opportunities very highly. It is an issue of balance, but I am sure that he would concede that the argument for listed events—when they include something as significant as, for instance, the Football Association Cup final or the Ashes tests—is a reflection of the fact that this sporting nation wants access to its major sports at crucial times, which free-to-air television guarantees, whereas private television, as the noble Lord defines it, requires a subscription. A balance has to be struck on those two perspectives.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the case for the Challenge Cup final is odd in that Rugby League wants its position as free-to-air viewing reserved rather than, as is normally the case, the sporting body itself saying, “No, we will try to make as much money as we can out of this”, to support its own internal programmes? Does he agree that we have something unique here and that it is not a run-of-the-mill example?

The noble Lord makes an important point that the Rugby League lobby is different in those terms and shows its commitment to its sport. He will also know that the argument on the other side is that the extra resources that can be generated from competitive bids from television companies give sports the opportunity to develop their programmes for the enhancement of youngsters learning those sports.

My Lords, I too declare an interest, as a member of the England and Wales Cricket Board. Is the Minister satisfied that the Davies report took cognisance of the economic consequences of its recommendation? Is he aware that some sections of the game of cricket—women’s cricket and cricket for people with disability—are financed almost exclusively through broadcasting rights?

My Lords, I emphasise to the House that the Davies report has nothing to do with me. In his report, my namesake identified the list. As my noble friend indicated, the point with regard to the home Ashes matches is significant. The cricket authorities make good use of additional resources in enhancing the development of young people’s interest in cricket and in helping to build the strength of cricket in this country. However, again I maintain that there is a balance between the excellent resources generated from cable and satellite television bids and the advantage to the nation of the big sporting events capturing its imagination.

My Lords, the Minister has twice spoken about balance. What economic assessment have the Government made of the effect on grass-roots sport of permanent free-to-air sport on television?

My Lords, it is precisely because of that factor that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is involved in additional consultation, which will be concluded in March. Of course, the factor indicated by the noble Lord should and will be taken into account in the decisions taken.