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Court overrules FIFA & UEFA bid to stop free-to-air tournament broadcasts

Thu 17th Feb 2011 | Television & Broadcasting

The World Cup and European Championships will remain on free-to-air TV in the UK after the European General Court (EGC) has ruled against FIFA and UEFA.

The UK Government designated both the World Cup and European Championships as "protected" events of national sporting importance, but FIFA and UEFA challenged this decision stating it interfered with their ability to sell television rights at the best price.

Now the EGC says an EU member state can prohibit the exclusive broadcast of games at these two events on pay-TV.

"A Member State may, in certain circumstances, prohibit the exclusive broadcast of all World Cup and EURO football matches on pay television, in order to allow the general public to follow those events on free television,” read a statement released by the Court.

"When those competitions are, in their entirety, of major importance for society, the restriction on freedom to provide services and freedom of establishment is justified by the right to information and by the need to ensure wide public access to television broadcasts of those events."

FIFA and UEFA claimed that there was no reason why all tournament games should be kept exclusively for free-to-air TV arguing that games not involving UK teams should be sold to Pay-TV broadcasters.

The Court ruled however that those competitions may be regarded as single events rather than as a series of individual events divided into ‘prime’ and ‘non-prime’ matches or into ‘gala’ and ‘non-gala’ matches.

“Participation of the teams in ‘prime’ and ‘gala’ matches may depend on the results of ‘non-prime’ and ‘non-gala’ matches, which may therefore generate a particular interest for the public to follow those matches,” read the statement.

“The Court holds that the Commission did not err in finding that the United Kingdom’s categorisation of all World Cup and EURO matches as ‘events of major importance’ for their societies are compatible with European Union law. Consequently, FIFA’s and UEFA’s actions are dismissed.”

.

FIFA and UEFA now have two months to launch any appeal.

UK live TV protected sports events

  • Olympic Games
  • FIFA World Cup finals tournament
  • European Football Championship finals tournament
  • FA Cup final
  • Scottish FA Cup final (in Scotland)
  • The Grand National
  • The Derby
  • Wimbledon tennis finals
  • Rugby League Challenge Cup final
  • Rugby World Cup final

Source: DCMS

The UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport said they were pleased with the result.

"We welcome the decision from the EU and continue to support the principle of protecting sports events for free-to-air coverage," a spokesman told the BBC.

 

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