THE BBC has won the exclusive rights to Wimbledon tennis for another five years.
It pulled off the victory amid bitter rivalry with commercial and satellite stations for the major sports events.
Will Wyatt, managing director of BBC Network Television, said the deal up to 1999 completed a 'sporting hat-trick' for the corporation, which has recently secured contracts to broadcast the Rugby Union Five Nations Cup and Test cricket.
The BBC was scooped by Sky TV over coverage of Premiership football, but managed to hold on to edited highlights for its Match of the Day programme.
'This is a tremendous vote of confidence in the BBC guaranteeing access to the entire viewing public,' said Mr Wyatt.
Christopher Gorringe, chief executive of the All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, was 'delighted'.
He said: 'I am sure this decision will be extremely popular with the many millions of British tennis viewers. Our long and successful relationship with the BBC has resulted in a style of coverage which accurately interprets and represents the unique culture and heritage of the championships.' The BBC refused to disclose how much was paid for the five-year contract, but a spokesman said the corporation was committed to maintaining comprehensive coverage.
In July, the National Heritage Select Committee called for tighter safeguards for the eight protected sporting events - England Test cricket, The Derby and Grand National horse races, World Cup soccer and the English and Scottish F A Cup Finals, the Olympics and Wimbledon.
The 1990 Broadcasting Act bans pay-as-you-view channels from obtaining exclusive rights to the most popular events. But the act left a loophole allowing subscription services such as the Sky Sports satellite channel the chance to bid.
There were also fears that other popular events might go to satellite exclusives.