ECJ adviser’s opinion on listed events deals setback to Fifa, Uefa

The UK and Belgium should be allowed to reserve top national team events staged by Fifa and Uefa, football’s global and European governing bodies, for free-to-air television if the tournaments are deemed to be of public importance, according to European Court of Justice (ECJ) advocate general Niilo Jaaskinen.

The ECJ adviser’s non-binding opinion, released today (Wednesday) is a setback for Fifa and Uefa, which have been challenging legislation in the UK and Belgium that ensures the Fifa World Cup and Uefa European Championship finals are shown in their entirety on free-to-air television.

“If those competitions are considered by member states to be events of major importance for their society, those member states may, in order to ensure broad public access, require that they be broadcast on free-to-air television,” Jaaskinen said.

The ECJ, which follows its advisers’ recommendations in the majority of cases, is expected to make a final ruling in the first half of 2013.

Fifa and Uefa are appealing a February 2011 ruling by the European General Court, Europe’s second-highest court, which backed an earlier decision by the European Commission to approve the free-to-air listing of the events.

By blocking pay-television broadcasters from acquiring the rights, listed events legislation restricts the potential pool of bidders in the UK and Belgium and therefore prevents Fifa and Uefa from maximising rights revenues.