BBC under pressure to show women's World Cup quarter-final

England's clash with France will only be screened live via red button interactive service

The BBC is under pressure from MPs and charities to show England's quarter-final clash with France in the women's World Cup live on one of its main channels on Saturday, amid warnings that not doing so could hamper the growth of the sport.

Hope Powell's England team, who beat Japan 2-0 earlier this week in Germany to qualify for the quarter-finals, will only be shown live via the red button interactive service.

The BBC is refusing to bow to the pressure to switch it to a terrestrial channel, even though while the match is on BBC2 viewers will be watching a repeat of classic Ronnie Barker comedy Porridge and antiques show Flog It!

The Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF), which has campaigned for more media coverage of women's sport amid fears that a lack of female role models is leading to a precipitous drop in girls playing sport at 16, said there was a risk the game would be unable to capitalise on the surge in interest.

"With the growing buzz among football fans about the World Cup quarter-final it would be an unprecedented boost for women's sport if the BBC could find a way to rejig the schedules," said WSFF chief executive Sue Tibballs.

"We appreciate that they have existing commitments to other sports but we're talking about the quarter-final of the World Cup – the pinnacle of women's sport. It would send the clearest message yet to Hope Powell's squad that the nation is backing them all the way."

The WSFF has carried out research that shows 61% of sports fans would take more interest in women's sport if it was given a higher profile on TV.

Andy Burnham, shadow education secretary, and the Tory MP Tracey Crouch, who recently raised the issue of TV coverage of the women's World Cup in the House of Commons, took to Twitter to urge the BBC to reconsider.

The BBC has said that because it is contracted to show the Scottish Open golf on BBC1, and has a longstanding policy of not showing sport on both of its main channels at the same time, it was impossible to air the match on a linear channel. Because the game kicks off at 5pm, neither BBC3 or BBC4 will be on air.

"There's a scheduling clash because we're contracted to show the Scottish Open golf. It will be live on the red button, which is now available to 90% of the population, and there will be highlights later in the evening on BBC2," said a BBC spokeswoman.

But the highlights won't be shown until 11.35pm and there are fears that, as a result, fewer younger viewers will end up watching the match.

"Just over 1.2 million football fans tuned into watch the 2009 European Championship final and around 700,000 viewers tuned into the edited highlights of the Japan match on Tuesday, while four million people watched the game live on German TV," said Tibballs. "It's clear that there's an appetite for it, and we urge the BBC to make this change."

The Football Association has recently made promotion of the women's game a priority, after several years of criticism that it was not doing enough to back it. However, Stuart Turner, FA commercial director said: "While they're not our rights to sell, without the BBC, these games would not be on free-to-air at all and at a time when they're also showing Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix and The Open, there were always going to be scheduling pressures."

England's first semi-professional women's league, the FA Women's Super League, began this summer.

The BBC will point to its coverage across 5 Live and its website, as well as the fact that its Gabby Logan fronted live TV coverage is available to 90% of households via the red button, as evidence of its commitment.


Owen Gibson, sports news correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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