FIFA Loses Bid to Block Free TV Access to World Cup Matches
By Stephanie Bodoni - Jul 18, 2013 7:05 AM ET
Soccer’s global body FIFA lost a fight to block free TV access to World Cup matches after the European Union’s highest court said top matches involving national teams should be available to all viewers if governments insist.
The EU Court of Justice also ruled that European body UEFA can’t prevent fans with access to a TV from watching their national teams in European Championship matches for free.
The court in Luxembourg said today it’s for EU countries alone “to determine the events which are of major importance” and available to anyone with a TV set.
A ruling in FIFA’s favor could have ended decades of tradition in the U.K., where the World Cup, the most-watched sporting event, must be shown on free television channels including the British Broadcasting Corp.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, allowed the U.K. in 2007 to earmark all World Cup games and the final tournament of UEFA’s European Football Championship for free-to-air television broadcast. That and the approval of a similar decision by Belgium to limit World Cup games only to free TV, breach the associations’ property rights, FIFA and UEFA had argued.
The soccer organizations didn’t immediately respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment.
The top court today clarified that EU countries are obliged to communicate the reasons to the Brussels-based commission that justify why in their view the final stage of the World Cup or the European Championships “constitutes in its entirety, a single event of major importance” in the countries concerned.
FIFA and UEFA were appealing a lower court ruling from 2011 concerning TV access to games on British and Belgian channels.
In the present cases, in the U.K. and in Belgium, the court said “it is apparent” that those games “have always been very popular among the general public” and have traditionally been shown on television for free.
The cases are: C-201/11 P UEFA v. Commission; C-204/11 P FIFA v. Commission; C-205/11 PFIFA v. Commission.
To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Bodoni in Luxembourg firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at email@example.com