World Cup matches likely to stay free-to-air

EU countries can require events of major importance to be shown on free-to-air television, according to Niilo Jaeaeskinen, an advocate general at the EU Court of Justice.

Football’s governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA are arguing against the inclusion of the World Cup and European Championships as listed events by Belgium and the UK. The so-called ‘Crown Jewels’ list ensures major sporting events are seen on free-to-air channels, but at the same time loses sports bodies the kind of fees they can command from pay-TV operators.

Although Jaeaeskinen’s opinion is non-binding his view is likely to be followed by the Luxembourg court.

FIFA and UEFA had argued the restriction of the matches to free-to-air television violated their property rights.

The UK list of sporting events that should be available on the free-to-air channels – effectively the PSB channels with near-universal coverage – BBC One, BBC Two, ITV1, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are the Olympics, the football World Cup and European Championship finals, the English and Scottish FA Cup finals, the Grand National, the Derby, Wimbledon, rugby union’s World Cup final and rugby league’s Challenge Cup final.

These events are protected under the 1996 Broadcasting Act, which ensures that they are available live on free-to-air television.