OPINION: The crown jewels are safe for now, but for how long?

Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Jessica Ennis-Hill.

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The BBC was not the only place tennis fans in the UK could watch the finals of Wimbledon live - for the first time.

After an almost 50-year monopoly, the BBC shared coverage of the showpiece men’s and ladies’ singles finals with Eurosport, which can only be seen via a pay-TV provider.

Is this the beginning of the end for another of our sporting crown jewels being shown on free-to-air TV after the loss of so many other great sporting institutions, like F1 and Test cricket, for example?

Fortunately, the answer is probably not... at least at the moment.

But what the Wimbledon coverage illustrated was that times are changing again in the world of free-to-air TV and viewers may notice that when they tune in for coverage of the Olympic Games from Rio next month.

The current sporting events that have to be shown free on terrestrial TV are football’s World Cup, European Championship, FA Cup and Scottish Cup finals; the Olympics and Paralympics, the Rugby World Cup final, Wimbledon’s men’s and women’s finals, the Grand National and the Derby; and rugby league’s Challenge Cup final.

The BBC will remain the primary broadcaster of Wimbledon at least until 2020 under their current deal and legislation means they must show at least 200 hours of the summer Olympics and 100 hours from the winter games.

However, the BBC lost control of its future destiny of Games coverage, which began on radio back in 1928, after American giants Discovery (and so Eurosport) won the pan-European rights for the Olympics, which will start in the UK in 2022.

They have partnered up for now with the BBC, but ITV, who for example showed some Wimbledon matches from 1954 to 1968, have made a bid to take over future Olympics coverage.

Surely there is nothing more British than watching Wimbledon and the Olympics on the BBC? From the days of Dan Maskell and David Coleman to Des Lynam and Ron Pickering and now Sue Barker and Gabby Logan, these are what our TV summers are made of.

Would they be the same on ITV with adverts meaning less coverage and the possible loss of live interesting moments?

More importantly for now the new deals and partnership mean the BBC’s Olympic coverage will be reduced this summer compared to four years ago and their fine effort at the London Olympics.

It will still devote two channels a day to the Rio spectacular with live coverage and highlights. It will still show all the key moments, but their reporting and coverage will have less depth.

That instead will now fall to Eurosport, which will claim to be the only place to watch every second of the Olympics.

I know 99.9 per cent of people will still be happy with the free-to-air coverage and that while the Olympics are protected by legislation, everything should be ok. Afterall, a miminum 200 hours of coverage is probably more than enough for even the most devoted sports fan.

But these changes may just be the thin end of the wedge and who knows what sporting events could be de-listed in the future.

Look how Test cricket’s popularity - at least with TV viewers - has plummeted since the likes of first the BBC and then Channel 4 lost live coverage.

It was reported that something like eight million people watched the 2005 Ashes triumph on Channel 4. Less than a million now watch live Test cricket on Sky apparently.

To put that into context, more than 17 million viewers watched the 2013 Wimbledon final when Andy Murray triumphed. More than 25 million people watches the 2012 Olympic Games’ opening ceremony on TV.

The crown jewels of Wimbledon finals and the Olympic Games may be safe for now, but for how long?