Matches to stay free-to-air after UEFA and FIFA lose appeal

Football will be free to watch still. Photo: PA

All matches at World Cups and European Championships will remain on free-to-air television in the United Kingdom after FIFA and UEFA today lost an appeal at the European Court of Justice.

The governing bodies had challenged Britain's decision that all such games should be regarded as Listed Events meaning that they must be shown on free-to-air channels such as the BBC and ITV.

UEFA and FIFA argued that not all the games in the tournaments "could constitute events of major importance for the general public" and claimed only the final matches of the competitions should be Listed Events.

If that was the case, it is likely the two governing bodies would receive far more from the television rights if other broadcasters such as BSkyB and BT Sport were also bidding.

Belgium also has a similar law regarding World Cup matches, and that was also challenged by FIFA.

But the European Court of Justice dismissed the challenge, ruling: "It is for the member states alone to determine the events which are of major importance and that the Commission's role in that respect is limited to determining whether the member States have complied with European Union law in exercising their discretion.

"The court found, on the basis of the information provided by FIFA and UEFA and in the light of the actual perception of the public in the United Kingdom and Belgium, that all the matches in the final stages of those two tournaments actually attracted sufficient attention from the public to form part of an event of major importance.

"In particular, it is apparent from the file, first, that those tournaments, in their entirety, have always been very popular among the general public and not only viewers who generally follow football matches on television. Second, those competitions have traditionally been broadcast on free television channels in those member states."