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Oct 5, 2009

England on the internet to be a one-off?

England's World Cup and European Championship qualifiers are destined to immediately be up graded to free-to-air sporting events - and that will kill off an internet revolution that begins with Fabio Capello's team in the Ukraine on Saturday.

• England to be shown on the web
• Supporters angry with decision Fans are angry that the only way to watch England's next World Cup qualifier is by paying a one off-fee to national newspapers to stream it via the internet or to pay to watch in a cinema. But ESPN Soccernet has learned that a government-backed eight-man panel, including former cricketer Angus Fraser, broadcaster Eamonn Holmes and former Olympic athlete Colin Jackson meets this week, and will deliver its recommendations before the end of the month.

The panel will seriously consider making World Cup and European Championship qualifiers for all the home nations teams guaranteed free-to-air event.

The Government will be asked to seek backing from the European Union to enforce other football associations not to sell the TV rights to anyone other than free-to-air services such as the BBC or ITV. Alternatively, the Government could block any signals coming from abroad, and permit only BBC or ITV to screen the match in this country.

Panel-member David Davies, a former BBC Sports correspondent and FA executive director told ESPN Soccernet: "We began the process at the end of January, it is the first review of its kind for 11 years, and we have been all over the world to explore every avenue and look into how its done in most major sporting nations across the world. We have taken evidence from every major sporting and Government body.

"At the moment World Cup qualifiers are not listed events. The panel will be meeting this week, so it has not made up its mind."

Davies has long believed that major sporting events such as World Cup qualifiers should be listed. He told Soccernet: "When I was at the FA, and Adam Crozier was the chief executive, we made a policy decision in 2000 when we were in Belgium for the Euro 2000 event, that all England internationals at home would be free to air. We had no control over the sales of TV rights outside, obviously

"The World Cp and European Championship qualifiers are not free to air in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, and it has become a big issue in Scotland. But look a the way it's done in the Republic of Ireland and you can see, it is possible to do."

Davies pointed out that the government must have the will to enforce the policy recommendations of his panel. He said: "I'd like our findings to be published, but that again will be up to a Government decision. As for the issue of internet coverage, naturally I am unable to talk about it as it is something our panel will be discussing this week."

The BBC argues that the current list be expanded to include World Cup and European Championship qualifiers for the Home Nations and some live cricket, but does not call for live test match cricket to be restored to the A-list, but would list Welsh rugby union's autumn and Six Nations internationals, the Commonwealth Games and the finals of both the 50 and 20-over cricket World Cups.

While most governing bodies and Sky, the dominant pay-broadcaster, have argued that sports should be free to choose who they sell their rights to, the BBC argues that listing events is in the national interest.

The BBC argues that listing works and has not prevented sports rights increasing in value by an average of 15% year-on-year, nor the emergence of Sky.

The BBC contends that listing is crucial if sports are to retain their connection with the wider public. "Without universal, free-to- air availability the social and cultural value of the biggest sporting events would be severely diminished. Our research indicates that the vast majority of viewers would be lost to sport if they had to pay a specific fee for the privilege," it has submitted to the Davies panel.

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