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Minister ‘cannot understand’ why Scotland matches are not free-to-air

Fans currently have to pay a subscription to watch the Scotland national team (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Fans currently have to pay a subscription to watch the Scotland national team (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Scotland’s Culture Secretary has said he “cannot understand” why the country’s national football team’s matches are not free-to-air.

Pressure has been growing on broadcasters to obtain the rights for the games, which are handled centrally by European football body Uefa.

The current rights for the country’s national team are held by Viaplay, which announced last year it would be scaling back its involvement in Scottish football.

Speaking to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, Angus Robertson said fans should not be forced to pay a subscription to watch their national team play.

“I find it very hard to understand why we do not have national sporting matches, and in this case football, on our public broadcasters,” he said.

“I cannot understand why that is not the case.

“Why is it that people need to subscribe to channels you’ve never heard of and pay money to watch your national team perform, particularly when it’s doing as well as it is, is beyond me.”

STV has secured the rights to the Uefa men’s European Championships this summer and will broadcast Scotland’s first match against hosts Germany, with the subsequent two group stage fixtures being shown on the BBC.

But the rights are only for the tournament, as opposed to Scotland’s ongoing fixtures.

Angus Robertson
Culture Secretary Angus Robertson appeared before the committee on Thursday (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Robertson suggested there is a double standard in the BBC’s coverage of the England national team, but the broadcaster does not currently hold the rights for the England team, with Channel 4 previously showing matches and ITV due to take over from September this year.

“The difference in approach that the BBC has to the coverage of England in particular in this respect is just there for everyone to see,” he said.

“Why is that? I do not understand that – and I say that as Cabinet Secretary for Culture, and sport is an important part of our national culture and frankly it behoves our public sector broadcasters to look at the coverage of our national sports and ask ourselves why would one treat one nation differently – in this respect – in the UK to others.

“I think we know the reason for that, but to me that is not an excuse for ignoring the coverage of Scotland football matches.”

Steve Carson, the director of BBC Scotland, appeared at the same committee earlier on Thursday and was asked about the subject.

SNP depute leader Keith Brown asked if he would support the designation of Scotland games as so-called “crown jewels” sporting events, meaning they would have to be shown on free television.

Mr Carson said: “Because listed events are a matter of public policy we are not free to offer an opinion on that.

But he said Louise Thornton, the head of commissioning at BBC Scotland, had been a “huge investor in Scottish football”.

Mr Carson continued: “Obviously Scotland’s qualification or the Euros and World Cups would be covered by the rights the BBC currently has.

“We don’t have rights to everything, but I think in context our commitment to Scottish football is strong.”