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Fifa, Uefa lose free-to-view footie challenge

UK can lawfully insist all major games are shown for nowt, court rules

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Upcoming World Cup and Euro football tournaments will not be shown in the UK by pay-to-view services like Sky, the European Union's General Court has effectively ruled.

The Court this week judged that the European Commission (EC) had been right to approve a list of games, including all 64 World Cup and all 31 Euro matches, that Britain believes are too important to be presented only to punters willing to pay to watch them.

European law allows member states to draw up a list of sporting and other events which, when televised, must be made available to as many nationals as want to watch them. That effectively means limiting them to free-to-air channels.

Each nation's list must be okayed by the EC. The EC duly approved the UK list, but Fifa and Uefa sought to challenge that decision.

It's in both organisations' interest to ensure as many matches as possible are off the list so they can try to sell the games' broadcast rights to pay-per-view broadcasters, which generally pay more for transmission permission than the free-to-air services do.

Fifa and Uefa insisted that the UK - or any other nation; they also complained about Belgium's list - can't rightfully claim that the whole of the World Cup and Euro tournaments are a matter of national importance, only certain matches within them, such as the finals.

The General Court disagreed - not least because EU media regulations specify the World Cup as an example of a tournament that can be considered of major importance to a footballing nation, likewise the Olympics - and ruled that the EC had been right to rubber-stamp Britain's list.

As a result, Ofcom, Britain's media watchdog, can legally mandate that the World Cup and Euro games be shown by free-to-air channels. ®

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