Nicola Sturgeon has called on Sky Sports to broadcast this weekend’s Old Firm game for free to discourage fans from gathering in homes or pubs.
The First Minister said the broadcaster could make a “small but important contribution” to keeping people safe from coronavirus by removing the paywall from the Celtic v Rangers match.
Making a virtual statement to Holyrood, the first minister also renewed her instructions to supporters not to travel to Blackpool to watch the game in a pub.
Her plea was made as she revealed that the number of Scottish Covid cases linked to the Lancashire resort had risen from 180 to 286.
Pubs in Glasgow and across the central belt are currently shut under temporary restrictions to combat the virus.
I would encourage Sky Sports this weekend to make the Rangers v Celtic match free to view for supporters as a small but important contribution they could make to helping keep people safe right now.”
Sky could help ‘keep people safe’
Responding to a question from SNP MSP Joan McAlpine during a virtual session of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said she had “heard suggestions” of plans by fans to travel to England to watch the game in pubs.
She asked fans not to put people at risk by travelling or watching the game in other people’s homes.
“I would encourage Sky Sports this weekend to make the Celtic v Rangers match free to view for supporters as a small but important contribution they could make to helping keep people safe right now,” she said.
She said this would enable supporters to “watch the match in the comfort and safety of their own home and reduce the temptation people who don’t have access to the pay-to-view services might have to go watch the match somewhere else”.
“If anybody from Sky Sports is listening, I would encourage you to think about making the match free to view this weekend,” she added.
Greens raise issue first
The First Minister’s comments came after the Scottish Greens made similar calls on Wednesday.
Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “Essential public health restrictions have meant that grounds have had to remain closed and now that pubs in the central belt are closed only those who have Sky Sports at home will be able to watch this weekend’s game.”
She called on the Scottish Government to urgently engage with the football authorities and Sky Sports to establish if the game could be broadcast on free to air TV.
SPFL chief’s call to fans
Ahead of the match, the SPFL’s chief executive Neil Doncaster urged supporters to observe physical distancing guidelines.
Mr Doncaster said: “Given the very clear evidence that household mixing brings the highest risk of spreading the infection, we are urging supporters not to congregate in houses to watch matches.
“They put themselves and their loved ones at significantly increased risk.
“Fans should also be aware that travelling from the central belt health board areas covered by current additional measures – Great Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Forth Valley, Lothian and Ayrshire and Arran – to other areas in Scotland to watch games in licensed premises is a clear breach of the guidelines.”
Sky Sports has been approached for comment.