THE Senedd backed calls for Wales’ Six Nations rugby games to remain on free-to-air TV.

Tom Giffard led a debate on a Conservative motion which urged the UK Government to include Wales matches in the free-to-air category for broadcasting purposes.

The shadow deputy minister for sport raised concerns that the Six Nations could become subscription-only when a deal with the BBC and ITV ends next year.

Abi Tierney, the WRU’s new chief executive, has warned MSs that adding the Six Nations to Ofcom’s category A listed events could be devastating for the whole game.

Mr Giffard drew a parallel to cricket going behind a paywall, saying audiences for the 2005 Ashes peaked at 8.4 million but the 2009 test series only pulled in 467,000 viewers.

The South Wales West MS said participation in cricket has fallen by 32 per cent over a decade, warning: “We can’t risk doing that to rugby in Wales.”

Urging the WRU to follow the FAW’s lead, Plaid Cymru MS Heledd Fychan highlighted a deal with S4C to ensure all Wales’ football matches are available free to view, increasing access to the Welsh language.

The MS for South Wales Central said: “I fully support this but we need more than empty words. We need to see action at Westminster.

“I urge the Tories to ensure that these aren't empty words; you have colleagues in Westminster who can change this – make sure they do so.”

James Evans, the Tory MS for Brecon and Radnorshire, warned that many families may be unable to afford to watch, with Sky Sports, for example, costing upwards of £50 a month.

He said: “How can we inspire the next generations when the very passion that inspires our young people to take up sport is hidden behind a paywall?

“I think it would be an absolute disgrace and a real shame for the game in Wales.”

Blaenau Gwent's Alun Davies said Six Nations rugby is more important to Wales than many or most of the other sporting events covered by Ofcom’s “crown jewels” list.

Mr Davies urged the WRU to ensure “we don’t sell tomorrow for funding today”.

Dawn Bowden said the Welsh Government’s position is clear: the Six Nations must remain on free-to-air TV so the majority of the population can watch matches.

The deputy minister stressed the importance of maximising the exposure of the sport.

Ms Bowden recognised complexities with free to air, saying there is a fine balance to strike.

She echoed the first minister’s comments that Wales’ cultural identity is reflected far more in the Six Nations than other free-to-air events such as Wimbledon.

“The listed events should reflect the needs of the UK as a whole,” she said.

Ms Bowden highlighted comments from Sir John Whittingdale, a former UK minister, that Westminster would revisit listed events if the Senedd argued strongly for it.

With a media bill before Parliament, she said now is the right time to review listed events, urging the UK Government to rethink its position.

MSs unanimously backed the motion without the need for a vote on January 31.