Football: FA infuriated BSkyB's Gascoigne ploy

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The Independent Online
THE relationship between the Football Association and BSkyB was seriously jeopardised in the High Court yesterday when the Premier League's new paymaster was granted an injunction allowing it to broadcast Paul Gascoigne's debut for Lazio against Tottenham live from Rome tonight.

The FA is furious, not to say embarrassed, and feels so strongly about BSkyB's actions it is ready to back out of a long-term agreement with the satellite company for the rights to show the FA Cup and England internationals.

Supported by the associations of Scotland, Wales and Ireland, the FA objected to the broadcast, to safeguard the interests of the home clubs involved in tonight's 18 Coca-Cola second-round ties. It cited Uefa's Article 14, which permits a home authority to veto any broadcast into its own country from abroad. Mr Justice Laws, however, ruled it was in restraint of trade.

As the founding fathers of the Premier League, the FA had entered into a lucrative partnership with BSkyB. The two sides were moving towards a five-year deal for coverage of the FA Cup and England games. Now, six weeks into the season, they find themselves on opposite sides in court.

Trevor Phillips, commercial director of the FA, said: 'I am at a total loss to understand the motives of BSkyB. How they can put the value of a long-term relationship with us against a short-term meaningless friendly is beyond me.

'Because of what has happened I am now exceedingly nervous about entering into a lengthy agreement with someone who does not hesitate to take me to court and doesn't even have the courtesy to notify me.

'It is no basis for trust or an alliance. And I know that the other television stations, BBC and ITV, would not have acted in this way. Traditionally they respect the agreements between the football authorities that certain domestic weeks have to be kept free of live football.'

Trust Gazza. After a long and tortuous road back from injury it was surely asking too much to expect his comeback would be a smooth one, and even before he attempts to kick a ball with the damaged right leg that will be the focus of all attention in the Olympic Stadium, controversy is once more only one step behind.

This time, though, the row is none of his making. BSkyB, in anticipation that the friendly with his former club would validate his fitness, his availability for his Serie A debut on Sunday against Genoa, and his readiness to return for England in next month's first World Cup qualifying tie with Norway, was determined to show it even if it meant riding through football's regulations.

The Football League found irony in a situation where it was also attempting to safeguard Premier League clubs, whose gates might be affected by a live broadcast by their TV supporters.

'Regardless of whether the game is a friendly, and regardless of it appearing on a satellite channel, the fact is that we are concerned about a live match going out in direct opposition to a full list of domestic fixtures,' the League's broadcasting chief, Lee Walker, said.

'I asked the FA at the end of the week whether the correct procedure had been followed. They said it hadn't but that if an application was made (to screen the match live) then it would be refused.'

Two seasons ago Hearts were fined pounds 60,000 by Uefa when they featured in a live match without permission. Earlier this season, the FA ran into trouble with the Scottish FA over BSkyB broadcasting the Charity Shield live north of the border.

In this instance the FA will complain to Uefa about the Italian FA's involvement. In addition the FA are hinting that the Premier League might take its own action against Spurs.