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Cricket chiefs' fury over TV rights plan; Ashes should be on free TV, says report.

Byline: Ian Shutt

CRICKET'S governing body acted with anger yesterday after a review of sport's "listed events" recommended the England cricket team's home Ashes Tests should in future be screened on free-to-air television.

The recommendations on the "Crown Jewels" of British sport were published following an inquiry headed by David Davies, the former executive director of the Football Association.

The move sparked fury at the England and Wales Cricket Board and comes as a bitter blow to media magnate Rupert Murdoch's Sky empire as Sky Sports currently screen the Ashes series.

It follows claims the Prime Minister complained to Mr Murdoch in a telephone call about The Sun's criticism of his Government's handling of the war in Afghanistan.

The pair spoke on Tuesday at the height of a row over Mr Brown's apparent misspelling of dead soldier Jamie Janes's name in a hand-written letter of condolence to his grieving mother Jacqui, published by the newspaper alongside her accusations of disrespect. As well as the Ashes, Mr Davies's report recommended that World Cup and European Championship qualifiers involving home nations be listed events, plus the Wimbledon tennis championship and golf's Open championship.

The Government are not obliged to follow the recommendations and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) argued that the financial impact would be devastating for the sport.

Cricket chiefs are furious given that the BBC has not bid for any packages of live English cricket since 1998.

Horse racing's Derby and rugby league's Challenge Cup final are recommended to be axed as listed events. The review was ordered in December 2008 by Andy Burnham, then the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, who was keen to ensure top major sporting events such as the Olympics were kept on terrestrial television.

Yesterday Giles Clarke, chairman of the ECB, predicted that income to the game from its broadcasting rights would fall from pounds 66m to about pounds 25m.

He said the move would have "clearly a devastating economic impact".

"The economic report commissioned by the Davies committee clearly recognised it would have a significant impact on grassroots funding and adversely impact our ability to continue current levels of funding for financing first class and recreational cricket," he said. "So we see it as being something that would take cricket back to a position of extreme poverty." Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "The Conservative Party welcomes the publication of David Davies' report and entirely accepts the principle of a listed events regime."

Liberal Democrat culture, media and sport spokesman Don Foster said: "It is high time the Ashes were brought back to free-to-air television and the panel's decision is great news for cricket fans. The idea of a voluntary code might be a good one, but the public has lost out in the past because of the collapse of so-called gentlemen's agreements."
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 14, 2009
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