Major soccer governing bodies on Thursday lost a battle to prevent big international soccer games from being broadcast on free-to-air TV channels in the U.K.
World soccer governors FIFA and European regulators UEFA appealed to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after a previous ruling held that the U.K. and Belgium had the right to stop the final games of the World Cup and European Championship being broadcast on paid television channels only. They argued that the games were of national interest.
Sales of television broadcasting rights make up a significant part of FIFA and UEFA's revenues as they organize the World Cup and Euro Championships respectively. The two organizations argued they could not sell the rights at their fair value.
The decision could dry up funding for grassroots soccer, according to UEFA, who said it was "disappointed" with the ruling.
"This decision not only distorts competition in a free market, but also reduces the possibility to generate income that can then be distributed to the amateur game via solidarity payments. And it is such a solidarity distribution that allows the development of football at all levels, including women's and grassroots, and is crucial for the well-being of football at the base of its pyramid," a spokesperson for UEFA said.
Similarly, FIFA said the ECJ ruling "distorts the media market" and would impact on the generation of funds for "investing in the global development of the game" and "supporting humanitarian projects".
The world soccer governing body said it already had a "strict policy" to make at least 22 matches available on a free-to-air basis in Europe, and had exceeded this target during 2010's World Cup.
The European court recognized that not all matches in the final stage of the Euro Championship and World Cup are of "equal importance", but that the public attached "particular importance to decisive matches" such as the semi-finals and finals.
The court backed a previous ruling which stated 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" and are "very popular among the general public".
It is up to individual EU member states to designate which games are of major importance, the ECJ said.
The UK's BBC and ITV have already secured rights to the 2014 World Cup, which are guaranteed of being free-to-air. But if FIFA and UEFA had won the case, a pay-TV model could have been adopted for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
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