BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead bemoans loss of live sport on TV

The head of the corporation's governing body says it's "very sad" that the BBC has been forced into giving up sports coverage including Formula 1, Six Nations rugby and the Olympics

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BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead says she is “sad” about the Corporation’s dwindling sports coverage.

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A football, rugby and cricket fan, the head of the BBC’s governing body says she is disappointed that the BBC this year has lost Formula 1 motor racing to Channel 4, been forced to share Six Nations rugby with ITV and has seen US giant Discovery swoop to win the European rights to the Olympic Games from 2022.

In an interview with this week’s Radio Times, Fairhead admits that the BBC could well lose more sport rights over the next five years, when the broadcaster will need to save more than half a billion pounds as part of the new licence fee deal.

“Some [savings] will come from programme content cuts, and one of the biggest areas is sadly sport,” says Fairhead (pictured, below).

Noting that the astronomical cost of Premier League football now accounts for a quarter of the total amount spent on TV programmes in the UK, she added: “I find it very sad.  You don’t want to get the BBC to a stage where there is so little coverage that you lose the innate production capability, and I still think that the coverage that the BBC gives of sport is superb, and I’m a sports fan so I really care.”

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The BBC has struggled to compete for live sports rights against well-financed rivals Sky and BT, leaving the future of free-to-air sports broadcasting in the balance. 

This year, it also lost the rights to the Open Golf Championship to Sky, bringing to an end 61 years of live coverage of the event.

In June, it lost control of the Olympic Games from 2022 onwards, after US broadcaster Discovery, the owner of Eurosport, secured a £920m offer for exclusive pan-European rights. The BBC may still be able to show the Games in the UK, although Discovery has also said that either ITV or Channel 4 could be the free to air broadcaster sold the rights to the sporting event.

A month later, the BBC was forced to share the rights to the Six Nations rugby union championship. For the next six years Wales, Scotland and France home matches will be on the BBC, while ITV will show England, Ireland and Italy home games.

Last month BBC Sport “reluctantly” ended its Formula 1 television contract three years early in a bid to save money. Channel 4 is taking on the BBC’s F1 broadcast rights from next season.

And the BBC hasn’t even been in the running when it comes to horse racing, which has moved hands from Channel 4 to ITV. The commercial broadcaster will have the rights to the Cheltenham Festival, Grand National, the Derby and Royal Ascot, from January 2017.

The latest cuts come as BBC Sport has committed to delivering around £35m of savings with the BBC committed to saving a further £550m between 2017 and 2021.

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 Read the full interview with Rona Fairhead in this week’s Radio Times magazine available in shops from Tuesday 19th January and from Apple Newsstand