EU to define frontiers of sport and business

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The Independent Online
KAREL VAN MIERT, the European Union's competition commissioner, will draw the line between sport and business when he tells the European Commission on Wednesday in which areas he believes EU anti-trust regulators should intervene.

Until the Bosman judgment four years ago - when the European Court of Justice ruled that the transfer system run by European football's ruling body, UEFA, was illegal - the Commission has stayed out of sport. But since then, the anti-trust directorate in Brussels has been inundated with sporting cases due to the ever-developing financial relationships between broadcasters and sports organisations. More money is now made out of sport in Europe than the car industry.

"The purpose of the exercise is to draw a line once and for all between aspects of sport that are purely a sporting matter and those that have an economic relevance, and so will require scrutiny by competition authorities" said a spokesman for Mr Van Miert. He added that over half the calls coming into his office are now to do with football.

The commissioner, who is to hold a press conference on Wednesday, will also give an overview of all the pending cases, the most controversial of which relates to Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One motor racing - the Commission is worried about agreements that give certain television firms a 33 per cent discount if they do not show any other car races. This, officials say, could discriminate against competitors.

The Commission is now probing how Mr Ecclestone's outfit draws up exclusive agreements. Intervention by Brussels already appears to have halted Formula One's flotation, and looks set to scupper a pounds 2bn bond offering. Other cases being investigated include the threat by the Italian-based marketing group, Media Partners, to form a break- away European football super league.

The most recent case involves Talk Radio, the UK broadcaster recently bought by former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, backed by his old master, Rupert Murdoch's News International.

Last week, MacKenzie called on the Commission and the UK Government to intervene over what he believes is anti-competitive behaviour by the European Broadcasting Union, that represents some, but not all EU broadcasters, including the BBC.

The EBU controls the buying of broadcasting rights for international sports events, such as the Olympics and Euro 2000 Football championships.

"The EBU is a bureaucratic dinosaur - a European cartel which is strangling competition and choice, favouring state broadcasters that need to be dragged into the modern commercial world and forced to compete on a level playing field," said Mr MacKenzie.

"It cannot be proper that only the BBC can obtain national radio access to these events."

Mr Van Miert will present his position on the EU's role in sport in the form of a "Communication" or policy paper, which already has the approval of the EU culture commissioner, Marcelino Oreja, and social affairs commissioner, Padraig Flynn.

Last year a delegation of Europe's most influential sporting organisations - including Max Mosley of motor racing's governing body, the FIA, and Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee - lobbied Brussels to ask for sport to be exempt from EU commercial regulations.