The European Union’s highest court on Thursday dismissed an appeal from football governing bodies FIFA and UEFA and sided with any EU member state that insists on keeping the World Cup and the European Championship on free TV.

The decision will be welcomed by fans across the continent who follow the tournaments with uncanny zeal.

The Court of Justice rejected the appeals “in their entirety,” in a move that represents a major legal slapdown for FIFA, the governing body that oversees the World Cup, and UEFA, which runs the European Championship. The two events are held every four years and are major income-providers for the federations.

As a result, the two will continue to face a restricted pool of broadcasters when they come to sell the rights to the prime-time matches in key markets across the 28-country EU. The member states have the right to select a series of top sports events to be shown on free TV.

At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FIFA earned $1.289 billion in European TV rights fees from a global total of $2.408 billion. FIFA says around 85 to 90 per cent of overall income comes from World Cup revenue streams.

FIFA and UEFA objected to the rules since they can be broadly interpreted. Even if the semifinals and final on top of all games involving their national team always seemed like a given for protection, some nations want the whole tournament considered of national interest.

In those cases, the federations felt hard done by, unable to use their full marketing clout. If the national team games, semis and final would amount to less than ten games, the full World Cup totals 64 matches and the European Championship 31.

The court said that the initial ruling of the EU’s General Court already said 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.”

“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,” the court statement said.

There were no immediate reactions from FIFA or UEFA.


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