a rugby ball
Photo: Cwmbran Life

Wales rugby matches could be added to a list of sports that must be shown on free-to-air TV if the Welsh Parliament called for the change.

Sir John Whittingdale, the UK’s minister for media, tourism and creative industries, told the Senedd he would consider adding Welsh rugby to the list of sporting events which must be shown on terrestrial TV channels.

Llyr Gruffydd asked about sports broadcasting rights and the relative importance of rugby in Wales, raising concerns about autumn internationals being shown on Amazon Prime.

“There’s even been mention, potentially, of the next Rugby World Cup going the same way,” warned the Plaid Cymru MS for North Wales.

“Clearly, if you look at the viewing figures in Wales, rugby is right up there – and, in terms of public service, surely there should be greater protection for that in Wales.”

Sir John said it is a difficult balance and restricting the potential bidders to only the public service broadcasters is a big limitation on the amount of money that can be raised.

He pointed out that Six Nations matches, involving the home nations, as well as the World Cup final are already among Ofcom’s listed events that must be freely available.

The Tory MP stressed it is not necessarily in the best interests of a sport to just maximise income but he was reluctant to tell sporting authorities who they can sell rights to.

Appearing before the Senedd’s culture committee on Thursday October 19, he said: “I think it would be quite difficult to say, for instance, that rugby matches involving Wales should have a different level of protection to rugby matches involving England.

“I think rugby is attracting rather a lot of attention at the moment in England.

“I’m not sure it would be right to try to distinguish between the importance of a sport in one part of the UK as against another.”

However, he told MSs the UK Government would revisit listed events, saying “it’s not closed”.

Sir John said: “While broadcasting is reserved, sport is not and we have always said if the Welsh Parliament argued strongly that for the good of sport in Wales that we needed to look again at the list of protected events, we would look at it certainly.”

Alun Davies pointed out that the Scottish Cup Final is reserved for live broadcast on terrestrial TV: “So I think the argument that different countries have different interests is already accepted. There is a place in the national psyche that is taken up by sport.”

The Labour MS for Blaenau Gwent – a member of Glamorgan County Cricket Club – warned of a decline in cricket, “at least partly as a consequence of its lack of visibility”.

“I think the UK Government has a responsibility to sport, community and the country which goes beyond simply maximising individual profit,” he said.