A SENIOR ADVISOR at the European Court of Justice has recommended that the EU’s top court reject a complaint from international football authorities over free-to-air TV rights for major international football tournaments.
An advocate-general at the European Court of Justice has issued a recommendation that the court reject a complaint from FIFA and UEFA over the rights of individual countries to designate the entire FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championships finals as being ringfenced for free-to-air TV.
Individual countries are permitted to designate certain sporting events as being “of major importance to society” and which must therefore be broadcast on free-to-access TV channels, as well as any offerings on pay-per-view services.
Belgium had designated every game of the FIFA World Cup finals as a protected event, while the UK’s list of designated events includes every game of both the World Cup and the European Championships.
UEFA and FIFA are seeking to challenge this, arguing that while it is acceptable for countries to designate fixtures involving national sides as protected events, their ability to sell commercial TV rights for their tournaments was undermined by the designation of the entire tournament as free-to-air.
In a document published this morning an advocate-general – who issues recommendations to the ECJ’s judges on how they should rule – says the matter of which sporting events are protected for individual TV markets is a matter for those countries alone and not for the EU itself.
Up to countries to decide what is important
While the European Commission had a duty to ensure that each country’s events were not unduly over-reaching, advocate-general Niilo Jaaskinen said it was ultimately up to each individual country to decide which events were significant enough for inclusion in the list.
The recommendation is not binding, but the advocate-general’s recommendations are upheld in the vast majority of cases and means the ECJ’s final ruling, set to be issued next year, will likely tell UEFA and FIFA that member states are free to designate entire tournaments as free-to-air if they think they are of significant social importance.
Ireland’s list of designated free-to-air events includes the opening games, semi-finals and finals of both the World Cup and European Championships, as well as any Ireland games in either tournament, and any of Ireland’s qualifying games for those tournaments.
The list was compiled in 2003 after the Football Association of Ireland struck a controversial deal with Sky Sports which would otherwise have meant that the Republic of Ireland’s qualifying matches would have been aired only on Sky’s subscription service.
Other protected events include the Summer Olympic games, the All-Ireland finals in senior inter-county football and hurling, Ireland’s games at the Rugby World Cup, the Nations Cup at the Dublin Horse Show, the Irish Grand National and the Irish Derby.