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Euro court: World Cup must remain on terrestrial TV

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

Football fans in the UK will still be able to watch World Cup and European Championship games on terrestrial TV thanks to a ruling by the European General Court (EGC). FIFA and UEFA had both challenged legislation which allows the UK government to protect sport’s so-called “crown jewels” and ensures they remain on free-to-air TV rather than subscription only.

However, the EGC dismissed FIFA and UEFA’s actions.

FIFA and UEFA argued that the ability of individual states to protect sporting events prevented them from selling TV rights to the highest bidder. The two governing bodies said there was no reason why fans in the UK should be able to watch these games for free. At present both international tournaments are deemed to be of such significance that they receive the special status. All EU member states can choose to protect sporting and cultural events of important national interest, guaranteeing access to the widest possible TV audience.

This is why all World Cup finals games are available on BBC or ITV rather than, for example, Sky Sports or ESPN. The English and Scottish FA Cup finals are also protected along with the Olympics, the Grand National, the Derby, Wimbledon, rugby union’s World Cup final and rugby league’s Challenge Cup final. The Ashes, the rugby Six Nations and Ryder Cup golf, surprisingly, fall outside the crown jewels A-List, although highlights do have to be made available, as they are on the B-List.

Football’s world and European governing bodies argued that any major tournament games featuring England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales would still be shown live, as would the semi-finals and final. This would have left the remaining matches featuring countries outside of the four home nations available for auction – with no guarantee that any would feature on free-to-air TV.

FSF deputy chair, Jon Keen, said: “This ruling is great news for everyone – not just fanatical football supporters but also for the millions for whom watching their national team play in a big tournament is real ‘event’ television.  Football is great at bringing people together and international matches are national events that do exactly this – restricting them only to those prepared to pay to watch would be a great loss to everyone.”

This is the second decision by the European courts in a fortnight which could have a massive impact for UK football fans. Earlier this month the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that broadcasters who own the UK rights to Premier League football cannot stop customers watching foreign satellite feeds.

FIFA and UEFA now have two months to launch an appeal to the ECJ.

The UK’s protected sports events (aka “The Crown Jewels”):

  • FA Cup final
  • FIFA World Cup finals
  • Olympic Games
  • Rugby League Challenge Cup final
  • Rugby World Cup final
  • Scottish FA Cup final (in Scotland)
  • The Grand National
  • The Derby
  • UEFA European Championship finals
  • Wimbledon

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