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EU ruling could change Premier League viewing

An EU ruling allowing television viewers to by-pass UK broadcasters and watch cheaper foreign satellite coverage of Premier League football would threaten the nation's grass roots sport, it was warned today.

The ruling came a step closer today when an Advocate-General at the European Court of Justice advised judges to back the right of Karen Murphy to use a Greek decoder in her Portsmouth pub to screen matches.

She faced a fine and costs totalling nearly £8,000 after the Football Association Premier League (FAPL) took her to court for breaching the League's power to grant exclusive broadcasting rights within the UK.

But Ms Murphy took her case to the EU Court and today Advocate-General Julie Kokott said blocking her right to use far cheaper Greek decoders to screen matches breached EU single market rules.

The Advocate-General's "opinion" is not legally-binding, but the full panel of EU judges follows such advice in about 80% of cases.

And if they do so in the final verdict later this year, it could mean a major rethink for the premier League and its current exclusive agreements with Sky Sports and ESPN.

This afternoon Tory MEP and European Parliament spokeswoman on sport Emma McClarkin said it would also have "significant and detrimental" effects on the funding of grass roots sport in the UK:

"This opinion is far more complicated than a simple David versus Goliath battle: money generated from television rights to sports are funnelled back into grass roots development, particularly in cricket and rugby.

"These are national football leagues that are being broadcast, and they should be subjected to national territorial rights agreements."

Miss McClarkin said the European Commission had already made clear that sport should be treated as a separate issue when it comes to EU cross-border rules, and said today's opinion "failed to recognise the specificity of sport".

She went on: "This could have consequences on the quality of national sport broadcasting.

"Once again, we are seeing the European Court of Justice taking the most federalist interpretation of the law, and this time the consequences will be very far-reaching for television and sports rights owners and for all levels of sport."