Calls to protect Scottish international football matches, forcing them to be shown on free-to-air television, have been given the red card by Government.
The Scottish Affairs Committee attempted to persuade the Government to enact legislation that would guarantee free-to-air coverage after the rights to screen Scotland’s international qualifiers and Nations League games were secured by streaming company Viaplay.
The committee feared public service broadcasters were being “priced out” of the broadcast rights packages.
But the Government said it didn’t think it was “appropriate to be more prescriptive about which specific rights” public service broadcasters “should seek to acquire and from whom they should seek to acquire them.”
Major sporting events including the Olympics and the World Cup are already protected, meaning coverage must be made available on a free-to-air broadcaster. There is pressure on both sides – from fans and pay TV broadcasters – to either reduce or extend the list of sporting events that must be free-to-air.
In contrast to Scotland, England’s mens Euro 2024 qualifiers are currently available free-to-air on Channel 4. Pete Wishart MP, the chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, says this arrangement puts Scottish fans at a disadvantage.
“The UK Government has decided to stick to the status quo by refusing to take steps that could allow more Scottish fans to watch major sporting events for free. Our Committee made the case that Scottish fans are disadvantaged compared to those in England and Wales where viewers can watch more events – including men’s international football – for free.”
“This response to our report wholly fails to reflect the strength of feeling on this issue from Scottish fans and the members of our Committee. We are therefore expecting to hold a debate in the House of Commons in June, ahead of the next round of men’s UEFA Euro 2024 qualifiers, to explore this issue further.”