Lesley Griffiths vows to make case for free-to-air Wales Six Nations

Lesley Griffiths vows to make case for free-to-air Wales Six Nations

Principality Stadium, Cardiff

Wales’ Culture Secretary has promised to tell her Labour colleagues in the new British government that Wales’ Six Nations matches must remain on free-to-air television.

Lesley Griffiths told the Senedd she wants to request a meeting with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to discuss the matter.

Ms Griffiths said: “By making the Six Nations free to attend we can ensure that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, can feel part of this shared experience.

“This inclusivity strengthens community ties and promotes a sense of belonging.”

Responding to a debate on a report by the Senedd Culture Select Committee on broadcasting rights, the Culture Secretary said she would write to the UK government by the end of this week.

Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice
Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice

‘Perfect storm’

Delyth Jewell chairs the Culture Select Committee, which has been conducting an inquiry into whether Wales matches should be added to Ofcom’s list of events that must be televised nationally.

The Plaid Cymru politician said: “A perfect storm of market dynamics in live sport has seen more and more events disappear behind a paywall.

“Public broadcasters are facing significant budgetary constraints, either through long-term cuts in the licence fee or a decline in the television advertising market. Rising production costs are compounding both factors.

“The advent of global streaming services also means that the value of sports broadcasting rights has increased.”

South Wales East MS Delyth Jewell speaks in the Senedd
South Wales East’s Plaid Cymru MS Delyth Jewell

The Welsh Rugby Union told the inquiry that moving matches to the protected list could have a devastating impact on the whole sport in Wales in the medium and long term.

‘Drop the ball’

Media rights account for £20m of the WRU’s total income of £90m. The union advocates open competition to maximise revenue from the sport.

Carolyn Thomas, the Labour MS for North Wales, acknowledged the tension but warned: “There is a real risk here that we will drop the ball if we don’t take action. We need to ensure that future generations can engage with the game without having to pay for it.”

She added: “Let’s hope that with the new British Labour government we are in safe hands and that we get protected, free-to-air coverage of the Six Nations.”

Heledd Fychan argued for matches to be broadcast on S4C, rather than a Welsh viewing option on platforms such as Amazon Prime.

Plaid Cymru MS, which represents South Wales Central, pointed out that Rhondda MP Chris Bryant has been appointed as a junior DCMS minister because she urged Labour to take action.

‘Plan B’

Samuel Kurtz has raised concerns about the 8% interest the WRU is paying on an £18m business interruption loan from the Welsh Government due to coronavirus.

The Conservative MP pointed out that the rate for English Premier League teams is set at 2% and said: “I think this is a financial restriction that is damaging to our professional clubs here in Wales.”

Caerphilly MS Hefin David joked that he has a lot in common with former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – “because my dad wouldn’t let us hear Sky either, and we had to listen to it on the radio”.

Caerphilly Senedd member Hefin David speaks in the Senedd
Caerphilly’s Labour MS Hefin David

He called for a ‘Plan B’ for the hospitality industry if rugby goes behind the paywall, including a contractual clause to give small pubs and clubs a reduced subscription rate.

Dr David said he watches Wales games through the Gilfach Workers’ Club, which pays Sky £514 a month. He was concerned about clubs having to buy multiple subscriptions.

“Well, the workers at Gilfach just can’t afford that,” he said.

‘Real crisis’

Alun Davies, a fellow Labour backbencher, said: “We need to address the real crisis in Welsh rugby and that is ensuring the game survives for future generations. I believe exposure to the Six Nations Championship is fundamental to that.”

The Blaenau Gwent MS cited the example of Glamorgan cricket.

He said: “My fear is that the more we take the game off the screens, the more we take it away from our communities and the people who love to watch the game, and the less it becomes our national sport.”

The culture select committee inquiry was launched after John Whittingdale, a former Conservative Party culture minister, left the door open during his testimony last autumn.

Sir John told the meeting: ‘We have always said that if the Welsh Parliament made a very strong case that, for the good of sport in Wales, we needed to look at the events listed again, then we would certainly look at it. So, it is not closed.’

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Join today

Nick Richards/Flickr