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Government may put The Ashes back on free-to-air TV

LONDON - The Ashes could make a comeback to free-to-air TV after a report this weekend said the government was poised to place restrictions on televising the tournament live as part of its review of 'crown jewel' sporting events.

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In December, former Football Association chief executive David Davies was appointed by former culture secretary Andy Burnham to conduct a review of the list of sporting events which must be shown live on free-to-air TV. These include the Olympics, the FA Cup final and the World Cup.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, Davies was briefed to ensure only events that have 'special national resonance' should be added to the protected list. The next series takes place in Australia in November 2010 to Janaury 2011.

The paper stated he has now reached the conclusion that The Ashes falls within this criteria and that the move has ministerial support. A spokesman for the DCMS said no decision had been made and it was still waiting for Davies to report back.

Test cricket was removed from the crown jewels list in 1998 following lobbying by the England and Wales Cricket Board, which lead to a £230m deal with Sky. Next summer the ECB starts a new £300m deal with the broadcaster, which runs until 2013.

However it is believed the ECB will argue against any decision to move The Ashes back to terrestrial TV saying the loss in revenue from the deal would damage its ability to fund development.

England's victory in this year's Ashes attracted a peak audience of 2m viewers, 5m fewer than when the team was last shown winning the series on terrestrial TV.

Burnham believed there was a case for expanding the crown jewels list. Shortly after he announced the review he said in an interview with Sky News: "I think there's a case for all of the main sports having some of their coverage available for the public on free-to-air, isn't it important for the public to be able to see some of the action from the main national sports?"

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