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FIFA & UEFA Lose Free-to-air TV Appeal

Thu 18th Jul 2013 | Legal

The Court of Justice has today dismissed an appeal brought by FIFA and UEFA against the judgments of the General Court on television broadcasts of the World Cup and the Euro championship finals broadcast on free-to-air TV.

Both Belgium and the United Kingdom each drew up a list of the events they regarded as being of major importance for society in their respective states. Those lists contained, inter alia, in the case of Belgium, all the matches in the final stage of the World Cup and, in the case of the United Kingdom, all the matches in the final stage of the World Cup and the Euros.

Those lists were sent to the Commission, which decided that they were compatible with European Union law. However, FIFA and UEFA argue that sales of television broadcasting rights for their competitions make up a significant part of their revenues.

FIFA and UEFA challenged those decisions before the General Court, arguing that not all those matches could constitute events of major importance for the general public in those States. The General Court dismissed their actions, which led them to lodge appeals before the Court of Justice.

In today’s judgments, the Court of Justice noted that the designation by a Member State of certain events as being of major importance for society and the prohibition on their exclusive broadcasting constitute obstacles to the freedom to provide services, the freedom of establishment, the freedom of competition and the right to property. However, such obstacles are justified by the objective of protecting the right to information and ensuring wide public access to television coverage of those events.

In that context, the Court pointed out that it is for the Member States alone to determine the events which are of major importance and that the Commission’s role in that respect is limited to determining whether the Member States have complied with European Union law in exercising their discretion.

The Court also noted that not all the matches in the final stage of the World Cup and the Euros are of equal importance for the general public, but consequently, those tournaments must be regarded as events which are, in principle, divisible into different matches or stages, not all of which are necessarily capable of being characterised as an event of major importance.

In that regard, the Court also stated that, contrary to the grounds given in the judgments under appeal, the Member States were required to inform the Commission the reasons justifying why they considered that the final stage of the World Cup or the Euros constituted, in its entirety, a single event of major importance for society in the States concerned.

The General Court found, on the basis of the information provided by FIFA and UEFA and in the light of the actual perception of the public in the United Kingdom and Belgium, that all the matches in the final stages of those two tournaments actually attracted sufficient attention from the public to form part of an event of major importance.

Finally, the Court found that, given the Commission’s limited power of review of the designation by a Member State of an event as being of major importance and the in-depth knowledge of broadcasters of the grounds underlying such a designation, it is permissible for the Commission to indicate only succinct grounds for its decision on the list of events of major importance drawn up by a Member State.

The court ruled that the in present case, it has not been shown that the effects on the freedoms and rights recognised by European Union law of the designation of the final stages of the World Cup and the EURO, in their entirety, as events of major importance were excessive and therefore dismissed them in their entirety.


Posted by: Aaron Gourley

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