MSP takes BBC to task over its coverage of Scottish rugby

BBC Scotland have come under fire from the Scottish Parliament for failing to support rugby.

The last three-year contract to screen Scotland's autumn Test matches ended in November and with it went a pact between the unions in Ireland, Wales and Scotland to negotiate with broadcasters together.

With the English RFU having already split to pursue improved funding from Sky TV, the Irish and Welsh have now broken away to negotiate separate deals with their domestic broadcasters, leaving the Scottish Rugby Union to deal with BBC Scotland and STV.

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Scottish Television last year agreed a deal to restore a magazine programme to Sunday afternoons, which screened the 1872 Cup derbies live and features weekly highlights of Glasgow and Edinburgh in the Magners League, but BBC Scotland are understood to have offered a sum below the market value for broadcast rights simply to cover Scotland internationals.

The BBC in London will today trumpet their coverage of the RBS Six Nations Championship at the tournament launch, having bought the rights through to 2013 at an enhanced premium when they were last negotiated, but claim that BBC Scotland has control over other Scotland matches. The SRU's efforts to agree a deal for BBC Scotland to cover this summer's tour to Argentina and the autumn Test matches against New Zealand, South Africa and Samoa have so far fallen flat.

Yesterday, Sarah Boyack, the MSP for Edinburgh Central, turned up the pressure by putting forward a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling on Scottish broadcasters to think again.

It read: "That the Parliament considers that there are significant gaps in broadcast coverage in Scotland of rugby, particularly on terrestrial television and particularly around the community game and high performance professional teams; is disappointed that despite the strenuous efforts of Scottish Rugby (the SRU] there is little interest to broadcast the sport sufficiently on either terrestrial or satellite television, and, finally, considers that the broadcasting of rugby is essential to further increased participation in the sport thus increasing fitness levels, promoting Scotland to a wider audience and creating a platform for greater Scottish sporting achievements."

The motion has received cross-party support.

The SRU confirmed that while talks had been held there were no agreements to televise any Scotland internationals in the future outside the Six Nations and World Cup deals. SRU chief executive Gordon McKie welcomed Ms Boyack's motion and insisted viewing figures he had obtained showed there to be almost as much interest in Scotland for Test rugby as there was in Wales.

"We welcome Ms Boyack's motion and we know we have some terrific support from MSPs across the parties.

"We have been holding talks and there was an offer, but it's not attractive. It has been extremely frustrating.

"BBC Scotland have said that it's down to the BBC in London to make decisions and I've trod the path to London many times only to be told BBC Scotland have full control and power over showing Scottish rugby.

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"We don't have any broadcaster for our Argentina tour games in June or what are pretty attractive autumn Tests."

McKie confirmed that the SRU is in talks with satellite and internet broadcasters and would accept a deal to move Scotland matches on to pay-per-view TV.

A BBC Scotland spokesman stated: "BBC Scotland has regular rugby coverage of Scotland's Six Nations matches, the Melrose Sevens and live commentary on Radio Scotland. Every sport is always keen to get as much broadcast coverage as possible but ultimately we have to balance its appeal to our sports audiences with the demands placed on the licence fee for non-sports output."