Friday’s announcement from SBS that they have secured the exclusive rights to the Tour de France, along with a range of other premier European cycling races, is much welcomed news for Australian cycling fans.
Cycling is such a hugely popular sport in Australia and the quality coverage produced by the specialist broadcaster each year has been fundamental in the continued growth of the sport.
Not only do SBS expertly bring us three glorious weeks of racing from France, they bring us the Giro, Vuelta and a host of the Spring Classics, such as Paris-Roubaix.
It is important that SBS have retained the rights to the Tour de France not just for those of us who happen to like their broadcast and fear that another broadcaster would ‘ruin’ our July viewing, but it is essential that an event like the Tour de France stays on free to air television.
It is imperative that the world’s premier sporting events should be available for all viewers to be moved by, inspired by and entertained by and the only way to do this is to ensure that they remain on free to air television.
If we want our kids to grow up developing a love of sport that will encourage them to lead healthy and active lives, then surely having the opportunity to watch sport and dream of sporting success is paramount.
If we allow sporting events to move exclusively to pay television, then our society will be the poorer for it and it isn’t just sports that involve exclusive participation from Australian national teams that should be protected.
Many of SBS’s viewers during the TdF may not be able to name any cyclist other than Cadel Evans, however, without the SBS telecast, there is no way that Australia’s emerging riders and team, Orica GreenEdge, can get the exposure to ensure that they too become household names.
Interestingly, pay television subscriptions have been reported to be on a downward trend. From this we may contend a number of things, but perhaps we can draw conclusions that consumers are not prepared to pay for sport, that has traditionally been free on Australian television.
Watching sport is as much a part of Australian society as participating in sport. In fact, many of us are more in the sports watching camp than the sports participation camp and this is not necessarily a bad thing.
And at the risk of sounding a little Bolshie or left wing, since when should our access to sport be based on our class or our means to pay for subscription television?
Could you imagine if the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games were no longer accessible on free to air television?
What about if you could only watch the Ashes by taking out a subscription to a pay television provider?
Aren’t we all entitled to watch as much AFL or NRL as we can possibly consume or is it only the wealthy who have the right to take joy in sport?
SBS’s broadcast of the Tour de France is also more than a sporting event. The broadcast is also a cultural tour through France, its sights, its people and its culinary delights.
The announcement that SBS will continue to exclusively televise the TdF is also a nod to its production values in showcasing an event like the TdF for Australian viewers.
Yes, SBS are broadcasting the images of the race produced by ASO, but they have packaged the Tour so innovatively, such as Gabriel Gate sharing some of the culinary delights of his homeland with us or David McKenzie riding Mont Ventoux.
And as for those moments of the race itself, well where would we all be if we hadn’t stayed up to cheer on Cadel in 2011 or watch early Aussie cycling pioneers, O’Grady and McEwen experiencing Tour success.
We see more than just a sporting event when we watch the Tour de France, we travel on a cultural journey every July, where many of us dream of visiting Europe and for some those dreams will become reality.
How many sporting events can we say that about?
The future of the Tour de France being beamed into our living rooms every July for the next ten years is secured and we can be confident in sharing in the glory of this amazing event for many more years to come.
First published on The Roar 22th July, 2013