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EU backs free-to-air football right
European Union (EU) legal backing for the free broadcast in Britain of the football World Cup and European Championships has been hailed as good news for fans and for the profile of the game.
An Advocate-General at the European Court of Justice rejected appeals by Fifa and Uefa against a ruling that the matches should be open to bidding from pay TV companies.
The Advocate-General - whose formal "opinion" will now be considered by the full court before a final ruling - said national authorities had the right under EU law to ensure "broad public access" to competitions deemed as "events of major importance for their society".
Fifa and Uefa, which organise the World Cup and European Championship finals respectively, claim an EU directive on television broadcasting which allows member states to block restrictive broadcast rights to major national events breaches their commercial freedom to sell exclusive screening access.
Such events are compiled on a UK list, approved by the European Commission as compatible with EU rules, and which includes all matches of the World Cup finals or the EURO finals.
Conservative MEP for East Midlands Emma McClarkin said: "Of course these are events of national importance in Britain.
"You only need to glance at our newspapers during a major tournament to realise that - or look at all the flags flying from people's windows and cars.
"These events bring the country together. People get wrapped up in the whole tournament, including many who may not usually watch sport and who do not have paid-for cable channels.
"They fill in their wall-charts, they take part in the office sweepstake and they watch all the matches. For lots of people, this is a huge part of being British."
Fifa and Uefa have challenged the description of such matches as "of major importance" under the EU rules.