Labour pledge to restore Cricket World Cup to free-to-air television

The Cricket World Cup would be restored to the UK’s list of “crown jewel” sporting events in the event of Labour winning next month’s general election, according to a pledge in the party’s manifesto.

The 107-page document, unveiled at an event in Birmingham on Thursday, includes a section focussing on the importance of sport in helping to build communities and keeping people healthy, adding that it needs to be made “accessible and run in the interests of those who participate in it and love it”.

“Sport enriches our lives, binds communities together and helps us all to stay healthy,” the document read. “We will add the ICC Cricket World Cup to the list of crown jewel sporting events that are broadcast free-to-air.”

The pledge follows on from a recent appearance by senior ECB figures before the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s Select Committee, at which the issue of free-to-air access was a central line of enquiry.

Unlike the football and rugby World Cups, the Cricket World Cup is the only one of the UK’s “big three” sporting showpieces that isn’t shown on free-to-air television.

The last free-to-air World Cup was shown on the BBC in 1999, while no international cricket has been broadcast on terrestrial TV in the UK since Channel 4 had the rights to the Ashes in 2005.

A one-off exception was made this summer when the ECB and Sky reached an agreement to allow Channel 4 to share the feed for England’s thrilling World Cup final victory over New Zealand, a decision which helped contribute to peak viewing figures of 8 million across all platforms, 4.5 million of them terrestrially.

That figure, however, still paled compared to the 12.8 million who tuned into ITV earlier this month to watch England’s men play South Africa in the final of the Rugby World Cup, while England Women’s football World Cup campaign in the summer peaked at 11.7 million for their semi-final defeat against USA.

In advance of its DCMS appearance, the ECB released figures which demonstrated the uplifting effect of England’s World Cup win, showing that 3.15 million fans attended cricket events in 2019, an 18 percent rise on the previous record.

Next summer, cricket will see a partial return to terrestrial television, with the launch of the ECB’s new city-based competition, The Hundred, which will be broadcast on Sky and the BBC as part of the latest £1.1 billion rights deal that extends from 2020-2024.

The next Cricket World Cup will take place in India in February and March 2023.

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