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February 1, 2006
It is expected that the House of Commons select committee on Culture, Media and Sport will today criticise the ECB and the government for allowing all live cricket from next season to be shown on Sky's subscription channels. While this might have an impact on the way the next deal is handled, it will not change the new four-year arrangement which starts this summer.
The committee will claim that the board breached a gentlemen's agreement made in 1998 between Lord MacLaurin, at the time the ECB chairman, and Chris Smith, the then-culture secretary. That deal allowed Test cricket to be removed from the list of crown-jewel events which had to be shown on terrestrial TV.
"It is very evident to the committee no matter what description it is given and no matter how its precise ramifications are interpreted, the understanding between Lord Smith and Lord MacLaurin constituted an agreement," the committee will announce. "And the content of that agreement was unequivocal: live Test match cricket played in England was not to be removed completely from free-to-air TV. What is equally evident to this committee is that the terms of that agreement have manifestly been breached by the ECB with the tacit approval of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport."
Crucially, however, the committee will point out that the gentlemen's agreement is not legally binding, and it will urge that no such informal arrangement is entered into again. Other broadcasters will also be criticised, with BBC and ITV blamed for not bidding for the rights, as will the government for failing to honour their commitments towards the protection of public interest.
The ECB will also come under attack for its failure to insist on a non-exclusive deal from the off and for not doing more to encourage bids for the highlights package once it became clear that the main deal would result in no live cricket on free-to-air TV. Only Five, a channel not associated with mainstream sport, tendered and it will carry the highlights.
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