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EU backs World Cup free-to-air right

The European Union is backing the free broadcast in Britain of the World Cup and European Championship football. An Advocate-General at the European Court of Justice rejected appeals by FIFA and UEFA against a ruling that the matches should be open to bidding from pay TV companies.

The Advocate-General said national authorities had the right under EU law to ensure “broad public access” to competitions deemed as “events of major importance for their society”.

FIFA and UEFA claim an EU directive on TV broadcasting which allows member states to block restrictive rights to major national events breaches their commercial freedom to sell exclusive screening access.

Such events are compiled on a UK list, approved by the European Commission as compatible with EU rules, and which includes all matches of the World Cup finals or the Euro finals.

FIFA and UEFA have challenged the description of such matches as “of major importance” under the EU rules. But Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen said that the EU member states alone were “competent to draw up the national lists intended to ensure that events of major importance for society are broadcast on free television”.

The aim of allowing national authorities the right to draw up lists of events of major importance was to balance the right to provide services in the area of television broadcasting with the need to protect the right to information “within the context of the cultural diversity of the member states”.

Judges making a final ruling early next year are not bound by the Advocate-General’s legal advice, but follow it in about 80 per cent of EU cases.

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