BBC makes U-turn on England's women's World Cup quarter-final

• BBC to show match against France live on BBC2
• Pressure from MPs and charities forces rethink

The BBC has agreed to show England's women's World Cup quarter-final with France live on BBC2 on Saturday, in a U-turn welcomed by charities and MPs.

On Thursday the Women's Sports and Fitness Foundation urged the BBC to reconsider its decision to confine coverage to its interactive red button service and the website, claiming it could hamper development of the women's game.

On Friday the shadow education secretary, Andy Burnham, and the Tory MP Tracey Crouch wrote to the BBC director general, Mark Thompson, in a last-ditch attempt to get him to reconsider.

They argued that showing the match only on the red-button service would not build momentum and wider public support for the women's game. They pointed out that England's matches had been watched by more than 4m people in Germany, where the tournament is taking place. The host's matches have been watched by more than 16m.

The BBC on Friday night said it had decided to show the match in response to viewer demand. In a letter to the MPs, Thompson said that although it was usually reluctant to make scheduling changes the acting director of BBC Vision, Roly Keating, had accepted it should be shown live. The programme will air at 4.45pm on Saturday.

"Owing to the growing public interest in this national football match we have decided to move it to BBC2 rather than showing it on the red button service," the BBC said.

The BBC had originally argued that it was contractually obliged to air the Scottish Open golf on BBC1 and was reluctant to screen sport on both main channels at the same time, despite the fact the broadcaster showed Wimbledon on BBC1 and BBC2 at the same time. Instead, it planned to air a repeat of Porridge and an episode of Flog It!. Burnham had said it was "almost unbelievable" that the BBC was prioritising repeats of Porridge and Flog It! over England's quarter-final with France.

England's opening game against Mexico on the red button was watched by 939,000, while 829,000 saw Hope Powell's side beat New Zealand and 525,000 saw them produce their best performance of the tournament so far to beat Japan 2-0 in Augsburg. In Germany, where the tournament has had far more extensive media coverage, regularly featuring on the front pages of the country's newspapers, 3.7 million people watched the game against Mexico and 4.1 million the match against Japan.

After the BBC's U-turn, Burnham said: "It's great that the BBC have listened and are giving this important game the prominence it deserves. I hope it will give the players a boost to know that the country is behind them as they enter their final preparations for the match. This will help build the profile of women's sport and inspire more young people to get involved."

Crouch said: "I am delighted that the BBC has responded to the demands of its licence-fee payers and agreed to show England's World Cup quarter-final match on one of its main channels. This is an important step forward in advancing the appreciation of women and girls' football, the number one female participation sport in the UK and I look forward to cheering on Hope Powell's England team to victory against the French tomorrow."

The WSFF chief executive, Sue Tibballs, had welcomed an earlier statement from the BBC that it would show the semi-final live if England beat France. "The further England gets in the tournament, and the more coverage and profile they receive, the better the outlook for the women's game in the UK," she said. "This is a great opportunity to inspire a new generation of girls to get involved at grassroots level and we applaud the BBC for this move."


John Ashdown in Leverkusen and Owen Gibson

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