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Premier League urged to screen matches on free TV to stop fans watching games together

Oliver Dowden called on the Premier League to put games on free TV (PA)

2 min read

The culture secretary Oliver Dowden has urged the Premier League to put this season's remaining fixtures on free-to-air TV to stop fans trying to watch games together.

He said football bosses are “considering” the idea as part of plans to try and finish the current league behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Dowden, speaking to the culture select committee, said it “wouldn’t send the best signal” if top flight games were only available via subscription channels, amid suggestions it could encourage people to visit other people’s houses to view them.

Sky Sports and BT Sport currently hold the live television rights in the UK.

The Cabinet minister said: “I’ve raised this challenge to the Premier League in the conversations I’ve had with them.

“I have said to the Premier League it wouldn’t send the best signal if they were one of the first major sports to resume behind closed doors and the public at large couldn’t have access to it.”

Committee chair, Tory MP Julian Knight, asked if it meant matches could be shifted to BBC or ITV while the country remains under strict social distancing measures.

Mr Dowden said: “I’m certainly not going to jump a further step ahead and start speculating about the platform upon which they might broadcast.

“To your point, if they are being mindful of access points that doesn’t just have to be going onto traditional terrestrial matches, or even showing all of the matches.

“There’s all sorts of creative options within that but it is something they should be considering, and they have said they are.”

He also said there had been “productive conversations” with sporting bodies about how they might resume events, but the main focus is still on other matters.

“We want to get to a point where we’ve bottomed out with this work, dealt with all the practicalities of it, then if the wider circumstances permit we would seek through Cobra and others to do it”, Mr Dowden told MPs. 

“That is not what we’re talking about right now, but we want to make sure we do all the preparatory work.”

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