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Report: Channel 4 set to bag British and Irish Lions tour highlights

Lions rugby union team have not featured on FTA TV since 1993.

2 March 2021 Ed Dixon

Getty Images

  • Channel 4 in ‘advanced negotiations’, according to The Telegraph
  • Commercial network secured live coverage of England v India Test cricket series last month
  • Sky Sports has held Lions tour rights since 1997

UK commercial network Channel 4 is in advanced negotiations to show highlights of the British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa this summer, according to The Daily Telegraph.

A deal would mean a return to terrestrial television for the Lions for the first time in 28 years. The rugby union team’s matches were last shown free-to-air (FTA) when ITV held the broadcast rights for the 1993 tour of New Zealand. Pay-TV network Sky Sports has held the rights since the 1997 visit to South Africa.

Channel 4’s reported interest in the highlights is the latest indicator that the tour will go ahead, despite the ongoing presence of Covid-19.

Doubts remain over the series’ viability in South Africa due to the pandemic situation in the country. Rugby Australia (RA) confirmed it was offering the Lions financial guarantees should they agree to relocate the tour Down Under.

Other potential options have included keeping the matches in South Africa behind closed doors, pushing the series back to 2022 or hosting games in the UK and Ireland. 

A final decision on the host nation is expected this month.

Should Channel 4 secure highlights for the Lions tour, it will be its latest major sports rights deal already this year. Last month, the network snapped up live rights to show England’s four-match Test cricket series against India. It is the first time the England cricket team have been on live UK FTA television since the 2005 Ashes.

Last August also saw Channel 4 extend its UK broadcast rights deal with the Paralympics to the Paris 2024 Games and it will carry live coverage of this summer’s delayed Tokyo 2020 Games.

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