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19th Jan 2020

World Cup, Euro 2012 to be shown for free after EU ruling

  • Watching football on the box is an 'event of major importance' for EU societies, the court said (Photo: Petar Stojanovski)

The European Court of Justice on Thursday (17 February) sided with football fans wanting to watch major games for free in a ruling against soccer authorities Uefa and Fifa on pay-TV deals for the European Championships and the World Cup.

Fifa and Uefa had lodged a complaint with the Luxembourg-based court against the European Commission, which had earlier sided with Belgium and the UK when ruling that football tournaments are events of "major importance" in society and cannot be restricted to viewers subscribing to a pay-TV channels.

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The court found that both countries had introduced measures "in line with EU law" as they "ensure wide public access to television broadcasts."

The judges referred to viewing figures from the most recent World Cup and Euro tournaments, noting that many spectators are not usually interested in football.

A spokesman for telecoms commissioner Neelie Kroes said on Thursday that the ruling means that other countries, such as France, Italy, Austria and Finland, were also "fully compatible with EU law" when labelling the sporting events as being of "major importance" and restricting the exclusive selling of their broadcast rights.

EU parliamentarians have welcomed the decision.

British Conservative MEP Emma McClarkin said the ruling shows that the court has finally recognised the special nature of sport.

"This is good news for fans. It seems that finally the message is getting across to EU judges that sport is a very specific subject that is organised differently to the rest of the single market," she said in a statement.

For its part, Uefa said it was "disappointed" and "will now study the decision in detail in order to decide on next steps." Fifa did not comment.

The ruling echoes a similar opinion by one of the court's advisers earlier this month allowing the use of foreign satellite TV equipment to watch Premier League games in Britain, despite an exclusive contract between the British Premier League, Sky and ESPN.

"The exclusivity agreement relating to transmission of football matches is contrary to European Union law," the advocate general said in her opinion.

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