The Television without Frontiers Directive (89/552/EEC as amended by 2007/65/EC)—now renamed as and amended by the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (2007/65/EC)—lays down the framework conditions in which the public may be guaranteed free access to the broadcast of events of major importance to society. Article 3a of the Directive enables each Member State to draw up a list of such events. As required by Article 3a, the Belgium and UK lists were duly notified to the Commission, which found that they were compatible with EU law. International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) challenged those decisions before the General Court of the European Union (GCEU) on the basis that not all the matches in the tournaments could be regarded as events of major importance for the UK and Belgian public respectively.
The GCEU held that the Commission did not err in finding that the categorisation by the United Kingdom of all World Cup and European Championships matches and Belgium’s categorisation of all World Cup matches as “events of major importance” for their societies are compatible with European Union law. Consequently, FIFA’s and UEFA’s actions were dismissed.
The GCEU considered that competitions themselves could be regarded as single events rather than a series of individual events insofar as participation of national teams in “prime” and “gala” matches, such as the final, might depend on the results of “non-prime” and “non-gala” matches. As such, it could not be specified at the time when the national lists are drawn up which matches would actually be decisive for a given national team.
The UK Government has deferred any decision on whether to maintain, revise or abolish the listing of events until after the end of the Digital Switchover process. That of course means that the current list, drawn up in 1998, will remain in force until 2013 at least.