Football: Uefa moves to restrict pay TV

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The Independent Online
Uefa, European football's governing body, vowed yesterday to try to ensure that all top international matches are broadcast on free television.

The intervention by the Uefa president, Lennart Johansson, came in the midst of fears in Europe, especially Germany, that key matches in the 2002 and 2006 World Cup finals may only be available to pay TV viewers. "Football is the people's game," Johansson said. "We want matches of national interest to be seen by as many people as possible. Officials from Uefa and Fifa, world football's governing body, are due to meet next week to try to sort out the concerns about television access.

Fifa awarded the broadcast and marketing rights for the 2002 and 2006 finals to a German-Swiss consortium, Kirch Group Company and ISL. Their offer of pounds 1.4bn beat the European Broadcast Union public television consortium, which has the rights to nearly all top Uefa games. According to the deal, the opening match, semi-finals and final must be shown on free television. But details of the rest still have to be thrashed out.

Egidius Braun, the powerful president of the German football federation, last weekend criticised Fifa for leaving the door open for Kirch-ISL to screen key matches on pay TV. However, a Fifa spokesman, Andreas Herren, sought to play down the differences.

"Fifa will make sure that the supreme goal of the maximum number of spectators per match will be reached," Herren said.

Johansson also said that Uefa was continuing efforts to counter the most damaging effects of the European Commission's 1995 order to scrap limits on foreign players.

The Bosman ruling - bitterly opposed by Uefa - has led to a drain of talented players from smaller European leagues like those in Scandinavia. At the same time, there has been a concentration of international talent in wealthy clubs at the expense of local young players.

Johansson said the EU's parallel order to scrap transfer restrictions had led to an explosion in transfer fees and an increase in the number of business interests motivated by commercial rather than sporting reasons. Uefa and EU officials were trying to work out ways to limit this. The EU commission was more sympathetic than in the past, he said.

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