The BBC should do all it can to keep the Six Nations free to air in English and Welsh, former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley has urged.
The peer stressed the national importance of the tournament in a letter to BBC director-general Tony Hall.
He wants the Six Nations added to a list of protected events which would guarantee its free-to-air status.
‘The most important fixtures in our collective national calendar’
Lord Wigley said: “When I first wrote to Lord Hall regarding this matter back in March, I emphasised that the games in the Six Nations competition are probably the most important fixtures in our collective national calendar. My view remains that it would be an absolute outrage if the competition was, in future, to be broadcast on pay-per-view TV or a subscription channel.”
He said he was told that every effort would be made to ensure the Six Nations would be kept on the BBC but this could be “challenging” if there was an “escalating bidding war” with the commercial sector.
Mr Wigley said: “I would therefore urge both the BBC and the Six Nations committee to act in the best interest of the people of Wales with regards to this process. The fact that the championship does not have listed event protection for live coverage meaning that there is no restriction on pay-TV operators acquiring and broadcasting the [live] rights remains a concern and, in my view, should be revised without delay.
‘The jewel in the crown of BBC Wales’
“The BBC’s role in not only ensuring that the Six Nations tournament is free of charge for all to enjoy but also in the knock-on effects of inspiring audiences and encouraging participation in the sport is absolutely vital. I and many others I’m sure want to see the Six Nations remain as the jewel in the crown of BBC Wales and BBC Sport.
“I would therefore urge the corporation to do all it can to keep this competition free to air.”
He added: “The debate around this and other sporting events which are of great importance to the nation, such as the Euro 2016 qualifying matches which can’t be seen free-to-air at the moment, highlights the need for Wales and its government to have a voice in decisions relating to broadcasting. As discussions begin about the future of the licence fee, it’s imperative that the needs of Wales are considered at the heart of the debate – both in terms of safeguarding S4C and increasing the level of English language provision made in Wales for Welsh audiences.”
The push to keep the Six Nations free-to-air comes amid concern about the future of Olympic broadcasts. Eurosport and parent company Discovery have secured a £920m rights deal for the Games; Eurosport has reportedly committed to broadcasting only 200 hours of summer Olympics and 100 hours of winter Games on free-to-air television.
Rhondda Labour MP and Shadow Culture Secretary Chris Bryant commented on the deal, stating: “The British people love the Olympic and Paralympic Games, so it is vital that the full range of sports remain on free to air TV and don’t disappear behind a subscription. Nine out of ten of us watched the Olympics on the BBC but this development need not mean that the Games are lost to the BBC.
“As things stand they are protected as ‘listed’ events with an absolute guarantee that they will be on free to air channels so with the government’s support they could still show the games in 2022. The Government needs to make it clear that it has no intention of dropping the Games from the protected events A list – and Eurosport should clarify its plans for UK coverage as a matter of urgency.”