Barbara Slater, Director of BBC Sport, writes about the importance of the Government and Parliament updating the listed events regime for a digital age.
It’s been six months since Team GB and Paralympics GB defied conventional wisdom by securing more Gold medals in Rio than they did in London. One of my highlights was the Women’s hockey final, with the British team enthralling millions as they claimed gold in a dramatic penalty shoot-out against the Dutch. The impact they made on that Friday night in August catapulted them into the limelight, creating role models for the next generation of Richardson-Walshs, Hinchs, and Queks. They’ve barely been away from our screens since.
It’s hard to imagine the UK without listed events; a piece of legislation that ensures key sporting events - like the Olympic Games, the football & rugby World Cups, the (English & Scottish) FA Cup finals, Wimbledon and the Grand National – can be made available to the widest possible audience, particularly those who cannot afford the extra cost of subscription TV. These national moments have a profound cultural and social impact. They are part of our national conversation.
Under the legislation, free-to-air TV channels must be given the opportunity to show these events. The qualifying channels (BBC One & BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Five) accounted for just 7% of the sport broadcast on TV last year, but they delivered almost two-thirds of the total viewing. The benefits of sport to the UK are maximised only when it’s available to and watched by the widest possible audience – this is essential to the spirit of the regime.
But the future of listed events is far from certain. The legislation on which broadcasters qualify was written many years ago in an analogue era and must be updated to avoid it becoming defunct. Rather than risk the abolition of listed events ‘by the back door’, Government and Parliament should act to deliver a regime fit for the digital era and ensure that our great sporting moments continue to be available to everyone.
As Nelson Mandela put it so succinctly, “sport has the power to inspire, to unite people in a way that little else does.” In a year’s time we’ll have the Winter Olympics in South Korea, with medal chances for Team GB once again, part of another action-packed year of sport which also includes the Football World Cup and Commonwealth Games. There will be others joining our hockey heroines, inspiring and uniting people, giving the whole nation the chance to cheer them on. Long may that continue.
Barbara Slater is Director, BBC Sport