Free World Cup TV matches backed
Published 12/12/2012 | 11:44
The legal adviser to the European Union's top court has backed the rights of football fans to see World Cup and European Championship games on television free of charge.
Advocate-general Niilo Jaaskinen has advised the court to dismiss the appeal of football governing bodies Fifa and Uefa. The European Court of Justice is to rule on the issue in the coming months, but mostly follows the advice of its advocate-general.
Fifa and Uefa are seeking more leeway to sell games to the highest bidders without the constraints of EU law, which allows nations to pick certain sports events to be shown on free-to-air television.
The television packages for the month-long footballing events are among the most valuable in international sports. Uefa gained at least £621 million in broadcast rights from Euro 2012, which was hosted in Ukraine and Poland in the summer. Fifa took £1.49 billion in broadcast rights for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The urge to optimise those broadcast rights clashes directly with the EU's directive aimed at giving the whole population the right to watch what are considered essential sporting events on free-to-air television.
Britain and Belgium both drew up lists including all of the matches of the World Cup finals, while the UK also added all European Championship matches. Some other EU nations have reserved free viewing for a limited number of games, including their own national team and the finals and semi-finals of those big championships.
Fifa and Uefa said all matches at their events could not be of utmost importance for fans in specific member states and appealed.
Mr Jaaskinen insisted that the measure was "justified, and therefore proportionate", a court statement said. He said he "proposes that the Court dismiss the appeals in their entirety".
Uefa said it took note of the advice. Fifa did not have an immediate reaction.
In a previous ruling, an EU court has said the World Cup and the European Championship were "single events" that could not be divvied up at will. Beyond the football tournaments, the EU ruling on free viewing often applies to the summer and winter Olympics, major cycling races, motor racing and tennis tournaments.
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