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World Cup protected for free-to-air TV

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World Cup trophy

© Rex Features

The European General Court (ECG) has today ruled that British football fans should continue to watch major events such as the World Cup on free-to-air television.

The World Cup and European Championships are both on a UK government list of free-to-watch events designated to have national sporting significance.

However, FIFA and UEFA challenged the government's right to protect the tournaments, arguing that the arrangement interferes with their ability to sell TV rights for the optimum price.

In its ruling, the EGC said that a European Union member should be able to prevent the World Cup and European Championship from being exclusively aired on pay-TV.

The court also said that both tournaments should be offered as "single events" rather than divided into 'prime' and 'non-prime' matches, meaning FIFA and UEFA cannot offer pay-TV broadcasters exclusive access to opening round games.

The EGC said: "The court holds that the [European] Commission did not err in finding that the United Kingdom's categorisation of all World Cup and Euro matches... as 'events of major importance' for their societies are compatible with European Union law. Consequently, FIFA's and UEFA's actions are dismissed."

FIFA and UEFA now have two months to launch an appeal against the verdict, but only on specific points of law.

Speaking to BBC News, a spokesman for the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "We welcome the decision from the EU and continue to support the principle of protecting sports events for free-to-air coverage."

Emma McClarkin MEP, Conservative sports spokesman in the European Parliament, added: "We need to ensure that the crown jewels of our national sports are accessible to everyone. I hope that FIFA and UEFA will not appeal [against] this ruling."

The verdict comes at a pivotal time for the way sports rights are sold across Europe, after the European Court of Justice recently sided with a British landlady in a dispute over showing live Premier League football in pubs.

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