In Brief

Coronavirus: suspending sport could bankrupt football and rugby teams

Authorities call for calm as broadcasters urged to consider showing football free-to-air

Coronavirus: Keep calm and carry on

As Italy suspended all domestic sport until April 3 and France shelved its Six Nations match against Ireland in Paris on Saturday, British authorities said there was “no rationale” to postponing sporting events. According to the BBC a meeting between the Department of Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS] and sport governing bodies on Monday “discussed potential responses if the outbreak worsens and mass gatherings are banned”.

Don’t panic

For the moment, in the words of Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney, “the basic message is let’s not panic”, a declaration paraphrased on the back page of today’s Daily Telegraph in a striking ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ headline.

As a result rumours in the French media that the entire final round of the Six Nations was to be rescheduled for October 31 proved to be unfounded, and it was announced that Wales vs Scotland in Cardiff will go ahead.

Bankrupt

According to The Times, the financial ramifications of suspending domestic sport or playing matches behind closed doors were made clear to the DCMS by the English Football League (EFL) and rugby authorities, who fear they “could be made bankrupt by the loss of gate receipts and doubt that insurance policies would offer sufficient protection”.

However, says the paper, their position is not shared by the Premier League, who would be in favour of completing the season in empty stadiums “to preserve the integrity of the competition, rather than the postponement or cancellation of fixtures”.

Free-to-air freebie

One proposal discussed at the meeting, which was chaired by Anna Deignan, the head of sport at DCMS, was whether the main subscription broadcasters would “consider the possibility of making events such as Premier League football free-to-air during a public-health crisis”, while simultaneously blocking TV signals into pubs and social clubs if matches are being played behind closed doors. Such a move would be in line with the advice of Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, who last week informed sports administrators that it would be no good banning spectators from live sporting events only for them to congregate in pubs to watch them on TV where the risk of coronavirus contagion would be high.

Last summer the cricket world cup final between England and New Zealand was made free-to-air so such a move is not without precedent. In this scenario, however, it would not be a one-off and Sky Sports and BT Sport pay around £11 million per game for Premier League rights. According to the Times “they were asked to go away and calculate the cost of providing free coverage”.

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