(CN) - Public interest in international affairs gives EU member states the right to trump broadcasting rights and air World Cup and Euro soccer matches on free television, a European court ruled.
If exclusive broadcasting rights to events "of major importance for society" would deprive the public, European countries may insist that those events be made available and draw up a list of nonnegotiable events. Belgium included the World Cup in its list, and the United Kingdom included both the World Cup and the European Football Championship, or Euro, finals.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA - which organizes the World Cup soccer championship - and the Union des Associations Européennes de Football - which runs the Euro soccer finals - challenged the two countries' inclusion of their matches on the list.
The Swiss-based groups claimed that individual matches couldn't all be rolled together and considered significant.
The European Commission, however, found the lists compatible with European Union law, and the Luxembourg-based General Court agreed, dismissing the groups' suit.
A collection of matches can indeed be regarded as a single event, the court ruled. Since no one can predict which individual match will ultimately be important, the court continued that even matches that are not considered "prime" or "gala" - along with those involving a national team - may be considered significant.
It's up to the member state to decide which matches to include on its list, according to the court. Although this may affect the value of the associations' broadcast rights, the court concluded that this restriction on the freedom of services and establishment is justified to protect the public's right to information.
World Cup broadcasting makes up FIFA's largest source of income. European broadcasting of the 2002 World Cup generated about $151 million for the association.
The court's three decisions on this matter, released Feb. 17, are T-385/07, T-55/08 and T-68/08.