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Fianna Fáil want urgent meeting with IRFU to discuss Sky's 6 Nations bid

Party spokesperson on sport, Marc MacSharry, wrote to the Union this morning in bid to keep tournament on free-to-air TV.

Politicians want to keep Ireland's Six Nations matches on free-to-air TV.
Politicians want to keep Ireland's Six Nations matches on free-to-air TV.
Image: Billy Stickand/INPHO

POLITICAL PRESSURE TO stop the Six Nations disappearing off free-to-air TV is intensifying after Fianna Fáil sports spokesperson, Marc MacSharry, wrote to the IRFU president, Nicky Comyn, this morning.

Deputy McSharry – a potential sports minister if, and when, a new government is formed – wants to meet an IRFU delegation within the next three weeks to find out what their stance is on the free-to-air versus pay-wall debate.

As things currently stand, the Six Nations is contracted to Virgin Media Sport until the end of the 2021 tournament. After that, the rights are up for grabs with Sky TV reportedly willing to pay £300m to secure the next deal, which will run from 2022 through to the end of 2025.

Politicians from both sides of the Dáil are keen to block the Six Nations going to a subscription channel with Fine Gael’s chair of the Oireachtas committee on transport, tourism and sport, Fergus O’Dowd, joining forces with MacSharry to say the Six Nations has to remain on free-to-air TV.

It is believed Deputy MacSharry specifically asked the IRFU what their stance on this matter is.

“I believe that the competition remaining free to air is in the long-term interest of the sport. The competition is one of the foremost sporting competitions for many Irish people and is key in encouraging greater participation in sport in Ireland,” wrote MacSharry in his letter.

“As you will know, the Six Nations appears on the current list of designated events but is deferred and will be reviewed again in 2020. I would welcome a meeting with the IRFU in the coming weeks to discuss your own position on this matter.”

Under EU law, the government is entitled to place certain sporting events in a special category to prevent them being sold off to subscription channels.

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The minister for sport is free to tweak that list this year. Right now, the Six Nations is on the ‘deferred’ list, which basically means, live coverage of Ireland’s five games theoretically could be sold to a subscription channel.

Essentially, if there is political will, the minister for sport can change the legislation and upgrade the Six Nations to a protected category status  – which would ensure Ireland’s matches in the competition are guaranteed to be shown live on free-to-air TV until the end of 2025. 

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Garry Doyle

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