BRUSSELS - The European Union's highest court has dismissed a challenge from football governing bodies FIFA and UEFA and sided with any EU member state that wants to keep all of the World Cup and the European Championship on free TV.
Thursday's decision will be welcomed by fans across the continent who follow the tournaments with uncanny zeal.
The Court of Justice rejected the appeals of the two federations "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.
"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," UEFA said in a statement.
FIFA objected to the broad interpretation of the rules to include all 64 matches of the World Cup. It said in a reaction that it already makes "at least 22 matches available on that basis" including all home team matches, the opening match, semi-finals and the final.
"Crucially," the world federation said, "such market distortion could also impact on FIFA's ability to generate funds from the FIFA World Cup."
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.
The court said that the initial 2011 ruling of the EU's General Court already 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."
"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.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar contributed from Geneva