Some English Premier League could be free-to-air when it returns - minister

Daily COVID-19 presser in London
Daily COVID-19 presser in London

LONDON (Reuters) - Some English Premier League games could be shown on a free-to-air basis when soccer returns after pausing due to coronavirus, culture minister Oliver Dowden said on Wednesday.

Dowden said current rights-holders had to be respected but that there was flexibility because rules restricting Saturday afternoon broadcasts of matches would not apply.

"The idea was that people would be able to watch them in the stadium, so they didn't want to compete. Clearly that won't be possible if we compete behind closed doors," Dowden told reporters.

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"I think that creates an opportunity for us to be able to get some sport, some Premier League, free-to-air."

Sky, which is owned by Comcast, and BT own the majority of rights to broadcast the English Premier League, with Amazon also holding some rights. Sky also has rights to English Football League (EFL) games, while the Scottish Premiership has voted to end its season.

"Those discussions are ongoing ... with the Premier League, the EFL and the FA (England's Football Association). I hope we can sort this out," Dowden said.

Dowden spoke after launching a taskforce aimed at seeing how sport and arts could be restarted safely following the enforced cancellation of events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, Britain issued the first guidance for elite athletes about how they could safely restart training. Dowden said guidance about resuming full-contact training was due this week, and he hoped that guidelines for resuming matches behind closed doors would follow.

"If we can do it safely, I'd like us to be able to get it up and running towards mid-June if that's possible," he said.

(Reporting by William James, Andy Bruce and Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison)

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