Fifa loses free-to-air World Cup TV battle

Wayne Rooney scores England's second goal in the international friendly against Brazil in Rio in June All World Cup finals games will remain free to watch on TV in the UK

Fifa and Uefa have lost an appeal against a European ruling that the World Cup and Euro Championships should be shown on free-to-air TV in the UK.

In 2011, the European General Court said the UK could keep the events on a list of "protected" events of national sporting interest broadcast for free.

It means the two tournaments cannot be sold exclusively to pay-TV firms.

Fifa and Uefa had appealed, after saying they could not sell the events fairly for their real value.

But the European Court of Justice - Europe's Supreme Court - has now said the original decision in the General Court (formerly Court of First Instance) in 2011 was correct.

Big money

The BBC and ITV had already secured the rights to broadcast the football World Cup finals in 2014, and they were guaranteed of being shown free-to-air.

But there had been fears that moves towards a pay-TV model would have been in place in time for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, should Fifa and Uefa have won their case.

Start Quote

The result means that Uefa and Fifa have now reached the end of their European Court journey”

End Quote Daniel Geey Sport TV rights expert

The court said it "dismisses the appeals brought by Fifa and Uefa in their entirety".

Fifa earned a minimum of $2bn (£1,3bn) in TV and media rights deals for the South Africa 2010 World Cup, and Uefa makes hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale of its TV rights to the European Championships.

Pay-TV rights for football are currently big business, as seen by the huge sums paid by BT Sports and Sky in the latest Premier League TV deal, which kicks off in the forthcoming 2013/14 season.

BT has spent £738m over three years for the rights to 38 live matches a season. and Sky paid £2.3bn for 116 matches a season.

'Major importance'

Even if Fifa had won its case, World Cup finals games featuring England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would have remained free to watch in the UK, as would the opening games, semi-finals and the final.

But it was the other dozens of games featuring non-UK teams that Fifa was disputing - and had argued that matches such as these should not be shown for free in the UK.

Spain celebrate a goal against Paraguay in the 2010 World Cup Fifa's proposal meant fans in the UK would have had to pay to watch World Cup matches such as Spain v Paraguay

Fifa and Uefa had argued that the current set-up interfered with their ability to sell television rights at the best commercial price they could get in the marketplace.

However, the UK argued that all the 64 World Cup finals matches and 31 European Championship matches were an important part of the list of national sporting "crown jewels", that have to be made available to the whole population to watch on terrestrial television.

And the court agreed, saying that European states were able to select broadcast events, "which they deem to be of major importance for society" and show them for free.

Otherwise it "would deprive a substantial proportion of the public of the possibility of following those events on free television".


Belgium was also successful in keeping the rights to World Cup and European Championship matches on free-to-air services.

Despite the more than two-year wait for the result of the appeal by Fifa and Uefa, many experts had expected the decision to go against them.

"The result means that Uefa and Fifa have now reached the end of their European Court journey," said Daniel Geey, a TV sports rights expert at Field Fisher Waterhouse law firm.

Watching England during the 2010 World Cup The court said World Cup football was of interest to the general public, not just die-hard fans

"Their aim was to try and secure concessions to market some of their World Cup and Euro matches to pay-TV channels in the UK and Belgium with the ultimate aim of maximising their revenues.

"The European courts have rebuffed such an approach."

The case has been working its way through the European courts for the past five years, with Fifa and Uefa lodging legal papers just before the Euro 2008 football championships.

In its ruling the court said it was "for the [European] member states alone to determine the events which are of major importance" to their viewing publics.

It also said that all the matches in the final stages of the World Cup and Euros "actually attracted sufficient attention from the public to form part of an event of major importance".

The court also pointed out that the tournaments "in their entirety, have always been very popular among the general public and not only viewers who generally follow football matches on television".

'Strength of feeling'

In 2009 former BBC journalist and FA chief executive David Davies chaired a panel which looked at the way the listing system of sporting "crown jewels" was drawn up.

Following the latest European court decision he said he could see both sides of the broadcasting argument.

"I can't say I am surprised by the decision, as I know the strength of feeling on this issue," he said.

"I have some sympathy - in the new media world in which we live - for Fifa and Uefa's case, even though I believe in what we call 'listed events'."

He said that World Cup or Euro matches featuring England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, were events of "major resonance" for those countries.

"The argument about whether the whole tournament - including, for example, a match between Mexico v Latvia - can be deemed as an event of national resonance, in perpetuity, will be harder to sustain."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    Have to say that I couldnt care less about football but I agree that there shouldnt be a monopoly on filming and showing any sport on any channel. I would be far happier as well if BBC and ITV had dedicated sports channels so at least those of us who dont want to watch sport have a better choice. I thought digital TV was going to give us a lot more choice? Obviously not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 437.

    what fifa andall other govening bodies should do is cap these ridiculous transfer fees and crazy wages so then itv and bbc could afford to bid for tv rights to show live games

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    Stop thinking of professional football as a sport. It's not, it's an entertainment industry. Much as they like to spend millions on convincing you that it isn't. The only reason teams try to win is because winners get more supporters and thus more money. They just like to make use of your loyalty to their brands to drive up prices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    Perhaps we should all take a season off and do something else.
    That should bring the prices back in line with what is only, after all is said and done, some blokes kicking a ball around and kissing each other every now and then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    9 Minutes ago
    Next autumn cant come quick enough so we dont have to put up with this idiot attitude from a foreign country any longer.


    Your using your own language after that time will make it even easier for you to avoid being upset by us South of the border.

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    Good - this is the right result. I've just had a read through of the other 'protected' events and I am amazed that ones I feel should be aren't:
    1) Six Nations rugby
    2) Rugby World Cup (appreciate final is protected)
    3) The Ashes (Not a cricket fan but feel it should be on the list)

  • rate this

    Comment number 432.

    ---Now how about having the same ruling for the F1 World Championship, then I can cancel my $ky subscription altogether.---

    If enough people cancelled their Sky subscriptions, there would not be such danger of sporting events we can all enjoy being taken from our screens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    If the Psychologists are to be believed, individuals and indeed nations spirits can be raised by the success of the respective national teams. This is especially so in these stark economic therefore begs the question why is an individual ability to actively participate (view) major sporting events determined by their ability to pay? F1, Ashes, Lions...etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    One in the eye for Blatter, but he's such a bitter man it wouldn't surprise me if he found a different way to screw football fans over. He will definitely get the Qatar WC moved to winter because he knows how unpopular a move it is - he'll be after that like a man possessed now, anything to save face. He's the type who doesn't like his authority questioned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    Well at least there will be something good on television to watch once every couple of years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    In a seperate ruling relating to ITVs coverage, the European General Court have banned Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend from commentating on any future football matches citing crimes against humanity. It is understood that Manchester United are appealing this ruling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.
    Anyone would think that football was the national game - it is not, cricket is our national game!


    "The English, not being a particularly spiritual people, invented the game of Cricket in order to give themselves a better appreciation of the length of Eternity"

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    People: it's only a game. If you can't watch the match you want to see watch something else or better still turn off the TV and relate to real people. You might quite like them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    There is NO way that I will pay one penny beyond the (excellent value) TV licence. And I will certainly not pay one penny to any organisation in which Murdoch is connected.
    If I can't watch something on my FreeView telly, I won't watch it at all. If that means missing England soccer games or some other major event so be it.
    This decision is brilliant news for the British public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    Is FIFA becoming the most hated institution ever? They mess up the 2022 WC allocation Qatar which has become farcical, and they try to rob people of free WC games? Glad they lost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    Why the negative comments from some people that it should be stuck on sky sports and everyone made to pay for it through the nose.
    Well free airing of football is far more important than Eastenders, Emmerdale and Coronation Street........agree?

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    FIFA losing any battle should be a "festival of the people".

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    rupert must be smiling, gotta get sky now for next year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    Good! Football is nowadays in thrall to spivs and money-men, and this ruling guarantees open access. A small victory for ethics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    And there was DC and co saying the EU and the European Court are pure evil! Thanks very much for acting in our, the peoples, interest in blocking a cynical move by a cynical set of organisations. Although one suspects it's these sort of decisions, putting ordinary people first, that enrages the Tories in the first place...


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