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FIFA World Cup and EURO look set to stay free to air

Europe’s public service media welcomed news that World Cup and EURO matches look set to stay free-to-air after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) was advised to reject a FIFA and UEFA attempt to sidestep ‘listed events’ laws in some EU countries.

In delivering his opinion to the ECJ this week, Advocate General Niilo Jääskinen endorsed the possibility for EU Member States to require all football World Cup and European Championship games to be broadcast on free-to–air television.

He called for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to dismiss “in their entirety” appeals by FIFA and UEFA against an earlier judgement of the General Court on the television broadcasting of the football FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Football Championship.

The two governing bodies of football were challenging EU Member States’ ability to require such major sports events to be ‘listed’, and therefore made available to all audiences on free-to-air channels.

“If those competitions are considered by Member States to be events of major importance for their society, those Member States may, in order to ensure broad public access, require that they be broadcast on free-to-air television,” said the Advocate General.

EBU Director General Ingrid Deltenre, welcomed the news, saying: “Sports events on the scale of the World Cup and European Championships have a positive impact that goes far beyond entertainment, teaching young people the values of team work, respect and fair play, and inspiring them to become the next generation of sportsmen and women. It is right that these events remain accessible to everyone on free-to-air television, and we are heartened by the news from the ECJ.”

The Advocate General argued that Member States may ensure the freedom to provide television broadcasting services and protect the right to information in the context of their distinctive national, cultural and social characteristics.

He also rejected FIFA and UEFA’s arguments that the limitation of the exclusive broadcasting of the sporting events that they organize “infringes their right to property”.

 An Advocate General Opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice, but usually forms the basis of final ECJ judgements. Final judgement in this case is still to come.