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World Cup games to remain on free-to-air TV in the UK

The European General Court (EGC) has ruled that UK football fans can continue to watch major events on free-to-air TV in future.

Fifa and Uefa had challenged a decision allowing the UK government to designate the World Cup and European Championships as free-to-watch events.

Both are on the UK list of "protected" events of national sporting importance.

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

The court also dismissed Fifa's action against Belgium showing all World Cup matches on free-to-air TV in that country.

Fifa and Uefa had argued the current set-up interfered with their ability to sell television rights at the best price.

They had said there was no reason why all games at tournaments should be shown free on UK television, as part of a list the national sporting "crown jewels" that have to be made available to everyone to watch.

'Action dismissed'

But the EGC has now said that the present way that games are shown in the UK - with the whole of the World Cup and European Championships on free-to-air - can continue.

It said "the court holds that the [European] 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."

The EGC, formerly the Court of First Instance, is the first European court where a decision is made. Appeals about its rulings are taken to the European Court of Justice.

Fifa and Uefa now have two months to launch any appeal.

'Distortion of competition'

The two football bodies had argued that any games featuring England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland would have still been shown on TV for free, as would have the finals and semi-finals of the tournaments.

Continue reading the main story

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

But the rest of the 64 World Cup matches and 31 European Championship matches would not have been free in the UK.

Uefa had said the listing infringed its property rights, as it resulted "in a restriction of the way in which the applicant may market the television rights to the Euro [championships]".

It had also said that showing the entire tournament on free-to-air in the UK had led to "a disproportionate and unjustified distortion of competition on the relevant market".

An EU directive gives all member states the right to designate sporting and cultural events of national interest for broadcast on free-to-air TV stations.

Hence, the Broadcasting Act 1996 gives the British government the power to designate key sporting and other events as "listed events".

The purpose of the list is to ensure that such events are made available to all television viewers, particularly those who do not have subscription television.

'National resonance'

Continue reading the main story


Bill Wilson Business of Sport reporter, BBC News

For the second time in two weeks news from a European court has had an impact on the way fans may watch big-match football live on television in the UK.

Two weeks ago, the issue was about whether live Premier League football in the UK had to be watched via Sky and ESPN's services.

Today's announcement means Fifa and Uefa have lost out on the chance to increase the revenues they get from selling the rights to showpiece events in the UK.

And broadcasters such as Sky and ESPN have missed out on obtaining top-notch football products to sell to their customers in the summer months.

It also means that the concept of a list of "crown jewel" sporting events, which must be shown to the whole nation free of cost, remains intact.

That means for now - as Fifa and Uefa may well appeal - lazy summer days on the sofa or in the pub watching three World Cup games in a day can continue.

In December 2008, the Labour government announced a review of the list, carried out by an independent advisory panel headed by former FA chief executive David Davies.

The panel reported in November 2009 with its recommendations.

"I have read with great interest the summary of the findings of the European court," Mr Davies told BBC News.

"It's remarkable how they reflect the debate and conclusions that our own panel on listed events came to 18 months ago.

"Personally, they don't alter my view that for the UK at least, the best solution in the future would be a voluntary agreement on the broadcasting of events of national resonance.

"If the will is there among the broadcasters and the sporting governing bodies, this is achievable, and maybe today's judgement could bring that agreement nearer "

In July last year, the Coalition government said any decision on the future of the list would be deferred until 2013 - after the conclusion of digital switchover in 2012.

'Protecting sports events'

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 said.

Emma McClarkin MEP, Conservative sports spokesman in the European Parliament, added: "We need to ensure that the crown jewels of our national sports are accessible to everyone.

"I hope that Fifa and Uefa will not appeal [against] this ruling."

Unlucky, you greedy ********:mad:


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