Israel vs Northern Ireland fails to make screens

Not many international football matches fall between the televisual gaps nowadays, but it seems that that is exactly what happened with last week’s Israel v Northern Ireland World Cup qualifier, which was not shown on either terrestrial or satellite television in the UK.

The game finished 1-1 and was hardly a classic of the genre, as 66th world ranked Israel were held to a draw by 90th ranked Northern Ireland. Neither team qualified for either the Tournament itself or next month’s play-offs to decide places for Rio, but the game is rather remarkable for not having been screened anywhere in the UK (of which Northern Ireland is, of course, a part).

The situation regarding the rights of the NI team’s home games is all fairly simple. Sky Sports is the current holder which gives it the option of showing all of Northern Ireland’s home games live, while the BBC has the rights to the highlights package.

However, the away games are a different matter entirely. As the Irish Football Association rightly points out in a BBC piece on the matter, the rights to away games belong to the football association of the country where the games are being played. Where it gets murky with this particular match is that Sky Sports has denied it had the rights to broadcast the game, whereas the BBC believes that the rights were sold by the Israeli FA via an intermediary and that Sky did hold them after all, albeit as part of a bundle with other matches.

Indeed, Sky had broadcast all the other Northern Ireland matches of the team’s campaign, so why the Tel Aviv match didn’t make the schedules is either a) a mystery or b) a prosaic decision based on small viewing figures and the fact that the match was effectively a dead rubber as far as the Northern Ireland team was concerned.

As usual, the BBC had radio commentary in place, and following conversations with the Israeli FA BBC Northern Ireland’s sports commentator, Joel Taggart, told Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme that Sky Sports do own the pictures, but they have decided not to show the game.

Rights are options, of course, and Sky doesn’t have the sense of national obligation that a public service broadcaster such as the BBC has to work under. But given that the existing Sky deal extends over the next four years and grants Sky Sports exclusive live rights to all home nations matches (bar England) through the qualifying stages of both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, the Scottish and Welsh FAs in particular may well be taking as much notice of all this as the IFA is reportedly doing.

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