In 2017, Parliament will debate legislation written by New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell which will put sporting games of national significance into the Broadcasting Act.

For the first time ever, sport will be put into the legislative functions of NZ on Air, writes Winston Peters.

It is high time sport was treated the same as other programming that New Zealanders can see on free-to-air television.

New Zealand First believes the ability to watch sport is a Kiwi birthright because sport is part of our culture, our identity and it unites us as a people like nothing else.

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Yet when it comes to watching live sport on television our choices are limited to shelling out upwards of $1000 a year for Sky, heading down to your local, or inviting yourself to a friend's place who has Sky Sports.

There may be the odd free-to-air one-day international but during the 2015 Cricket World Cup, Prime's "free-to-air coverage of the Cricket World Cup" translated into barely three live games out of 49.

This is why New Zealand First will put major domestic sporting fixtures, World Cup matches and transtasman grand finals involving New Zealand teams back on free-to-air television and live.

That's of course if Parliament can be persuaded to back our most important amendment to the Broadcasting Act.

Today, almost 1.1 million homes do not have Sky and not every one of Sky's 729,000 customers can afford the $109 a month for the full sports package.

The former Prime Minister John Key has said broadcasting sport live and free to air would harm the All Blacks by starving them of cash.

That's bumf because cash for sporting broadcast rights will still be there. The only difference is that it will come from the free-to-air broadcasters competing to put games of national significance on to television.

The truth is that Australia has had these laws in place since 1992 after pay TV made its impact felt. This has not stymied sport growth there, forced players overseas or made the Australian cricket team a bunch of easy beats.

Similar measures were introduced in the UK in 1996, and in 2007 India enacted arguably the toughest regulation of sport broadcasting anywhere.

A 2016 decision of the Indian Supreme Court requires that broadcasters of "sporting events of national importance" must share a clean feed of the broadcast with India's equivalent of Television New Zealand. By clean, the court said it must be free of broadcaster-inserted advertising during breaks and any other digital commercial inserts.

This is why New Zealand First's Games of National Significance amendment to the Broadcasting Act is, we believe, a happy medium between what we've got now and India's highly prescriptive approach.

Another key difference is that taxpayers in those countries, who pay millions of dollars to support sport through taxes and rates, can enjoy nationally significant sports events without having to pay a third time over.

Sky said in its 2016 annual report that it had spent more than $1 billion on sports rights and production in the past decade. That pales in comparison to the billions taxpayers and ratepayers have put into New Zealand sport over the same period.

In 2015 alone, local government invested $873 million of ratepayers' money into grassroots sport and recreation. In that same year taxpayers chipped in another $85m through Sport and Recreation, taking 2015's total to just under $1b.

Another reason for why New Zealand First wants to get Games of National Significance on to the statute books is to arrest a decline in those playing sport at the grassroots.

Being able to watch our sporting heroes and heroines is a great way to inspire and encourage New Zealanders and especially children, to be the best they can be.

In 2015, New Zealand Rugby confirmed to the Herald that fewer teenagers were playing rugby in our largest city. It is even worse for other major sports, like cricket, which other media reports say has seen national secondary school numbers drop between 2011 and 2015 so that it now ranks behind badminton in participation.

This is what a Faustian pact with pay television has delivered to the sporting grassroots.

Without access to high quality sport, people are increasingly less inclined to play and sport becomes just another alternative recreation choice for New Zealanders.

- The Rt Hon Winston Peters is the leader of New Zealand First and Member of Parliament for Northland.

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