Cheaper to Watch Football, but What About Cricket?

Labour Party

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently made a ruling on broadcasting rights for sporting events that could have serious effects on minority sports across Europe, including cricket. 

At the moment broadcasting rights for sport in Europe are sold on a ‘territorial’ (country by country) basis.  They are also sold on an ‘exclusive’ basis, which means that only one broadcaster in each country is allowed to broadcast the event.  Understandably the rights are sold at different prices in each territory since, for instance, Greek broadcasters are unlikely to pay as much for English football as British ones.  The system works using ‘decoder cards’ which, once a subscription is paid to your territories service provider, allows you to access their channels through a satellite dish.

What has happened in this instance is that a British publican has used a Greek ‘decoder card’ to access Premier League games for far less than they would have to pay for subscription to a British provider.  The Premier League has brought a case against them as they believe that this infringes their right to sell their product on a country by country basis.  The ECJ has ruled that this ‘territorial exclusivity’ goes against the principles of the European Single Market and that decoder cards can be legally traded across member state boundaries.  So the victory goes to the pub owner.

Now you are unlikely to hear me standing up for the rights of the megalithic Premier League or BSkyB, they are big enough and tough enough to do that for themselves.  I’m also uncomfortable with the notion of such a big organisation with limitless resources suing an independent pub owner.  Having said that, this ruling, in my opinion, does no one any good at all. 

It would mean less money for all sports who sell their broadcasting rights. If there are no ‘exclusive’ rights, then broadcasters would pay far less money.  It would mean a significant loss of cultural diversity, if there are no ‘territorial’ restrictions then you could have a ‘one-size fits all’ European system. Big sports could still sell on a big ‘European’ system (football is popular everywhere). But smaller sports such as ski-jumping, cricket, curling, or cycling, would not be able to make enough money from selling to the whole of Europe.  Smaller broadcasters would not be able to afford the cost of ‘European’ rights. They would not be able to compete, which would mean a monopolistic advantage for the biggest broadcasters in Europe.

So we could see cricket losing a lot its money, similarly handball in France and the Scandinavian countries.  This would be bad for sport and bad cultural diversity.

England is the best country to host the World Cup

Labour Party

 

I have been following with interest the recent Panorama investigation in to leading figures within FIFA and the allegations of bribery.  It seems uncertain now whether or not this story will impact our bid for the 2018 World Cup, I hope it doesn’t and Michel Platini doesn’t think it will, but we have to maintain the BBC’s right to journalistic independence and if the allegations are true then they should certainly be exposed.  I think it would be wonderful for England to host the World Cup, just as it is such a boon for London to host the 2012 Olympics, but we can’t suppress the reporting of corruption just for the sake of this opportunity.

FIFA is obviously a very powerful, supranational organisation that maintains a massive amount of independence from governments around the world.  This is probably for the best, but looking at this situation made me think of the work that bodies such as the EU can do in terms making sport fairer and more accountable.  Within the next month or two the commission will be releasing a communication on sport that will put forward a number of proposals that will hopefully go some way to dealing with some of the major issues facing sport in Europe.  The first of these is player’s agents, which is something that has marred the reputation of some sports (I’m thinking of football in particular here) in recent years.  Due to the many levels of authority that exist in the sport world at the local, national and international level, you can see why there is so much confusion in the regulations surrounding the representation of athletes.  I think what we have to bear in mind is that people usually enter sport at a very young age and they need to be protected.  Hopefully their families can offer them support, but sometimes this is not enough.  Agents must be held to account and I think they should be required to pass exams and gain licences, which could be revoked for misconduct.  I wouldn’t mind seeing a licensing system run by FIFA or UEFA, or other relevant sporting bodies, but for it to be effective it would have to be mandatory.

I hope that we can introduce some legislation that will properly protect professional athletes across Europe.  Sport is such an important part of all our lives, whether we are professional athletes, amateur enthusiasts or just keen observers, so I think we should be making sure that the sports men and women who we look up to and inspire us are properly protected and represented.  I am very much looking forward to the Commission communication on this and hope to work closely with them to see that we achieve the best result possible.

Culture and Education Committee to Tackle Agents in Sport

Labour Party

Since the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament has been given extra powers in the area of sport, with the Culture and Education Committee taking the lead.  So, yesterday in a meeting of the coordinators from each political group we decided that we should table an oral question with a debate about one of the more important issues facing sport today; the issue of players’ agents.

We’ve all seen the attention grabbing headlines about the likes of Paul Stretford, Wayne Rooney’s former agent, but the problems surrounding this issue aren’t limited to the U.K. or even football.  In 2007 the European Commission issued a white paper on sport that, amongst other things, discussed the problems of player’s agents.  It said that there have been numerous reports of bad practices including corruption, money laundering and the trafficking of under-age players.  Not only is this damaging for the individuals involved but also the profile of sport generally.

Unfortunately not much has happened since then, so I think it is a good move on the part of the Culture Committee to try and put this matter back on the table.  The is a Europe wide issue, with players from various sports moving between countries and sometimes continents and at the moment the laws surrounding player representation is patchy across member states.  Perhaps we can look in to a pan-European licensing system for agents and/or an agent’s register to help clean up this rather murky world.  This is not to say that all agents are corrupt, but EU legislation could help by recognising good agents and stopping bad ones.  I look forward to a lively discussionin the European  Parliament and I hope we can find a workable solution.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE ENGLAND WOMEN’S FOOTBALL TEAM

culture, football

England Women

It’s extremely heartening to hear that the England women’s football team has done so well and are now through to the final of the European Championships, the first time they have got this far since the Championship started in 1984.  Congratulations and all the very best for the final on Thursday, to be played in the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. 

On a personal note, I’m pleased to see women’s football doing well, which is, I think, beginning to put it on the map, albeit still only on the periphery.  Hopefully a win on Thursday will raise the status on women’s foorball in England and encourage more girls and young women to take up the sport.