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Claims that Sky Television's successful broadcast bid for the 2011 rugby World Cup will deny New Zealanders free-to-air access to the tournament have been rubbished by the man heading the event here.
Sky this month won host broadcaster rights for the tournament and will work with the international Rugby World Cup Ltd (RWCL) to produce coverage of all 48 matches in New Zealand.
Labour Party broadcasting spokesman Brendon Burns said today that New Zealanders would be denied their "birthright" to watch many of the games for free.
Mr Burns said the National-led Government's "hands-off" policies meant there would only be "second-pickings" on free-to-air TV.
Associate Minister for the Rugby World Cup, Gerry Brownlee, said last week the bid process was commercial, and solely between broadcasters and RWCL.
A spokesman from Mr Brownlee's office said today the most important matches were set to be available on a free-to-air channel, and in a highly competitive environment, such an outcome would be beneficial for all New Zealanders.
Rugby New Zealand 2011 chief executive Martin Snedden said tenders would go out later this year for the rights for local broadcasters to screen up to 16 matches.
TVNZ and TV3 were among those expected to bid.
Mr Snedden said both had earlier indicated there was little point in broadcasting all the smaller matches, but it was now up to them to ensure viewers could see the main matches.
They would include All Black Pool games, along with the quarterfinals, semifinals and the final.
Mr Snedden said Labour had an opportunity when in power to introduce legislation which would have forced the whole tournament to be on free-to-air TV.
He was pleased that didn't happen as there were too many "fish-hooks", and said he was baffled by Mr Burns' recent comments.
If a local free-to-air broadcaster won rights to screen the main games - as expected - the outcome would be pleasing.
"Remember, we've had no free-to-air live coverage of major test matches for a number of years," Snedden told NZPA.
"Now the New Zealand rugby public is being offered the 16 best matches -- if the broadcasters want them."
He said RWCL would expect a reasonable commercial return for the rights.
Mr Snedden said Sky's successful bid for the main hosting rights was a credit to the company and its ability to provide quality coverage for an international audience.