'Crown jewels' of sport must be free for all to watch on television, says EU

Armchair sports fans will continue to have free live TV access to "crown jewel" events such as the World Cup finals, FA Cup and Wimbledon, it was announced yesterday.

Armchair sports fans will continue to have free live TV access to "crown jewel" events such as the World Cup finals, FA Cup and Wimbledon, it was announced yesterday.

The European Commission has backed a Government pledge to force broadcasters to screen Britain's most important sports events as they happen on free-to-air channels. Its decision means that, even if a foreign company were to buy exclusive rights to one of the events, it would have to show them for free to UK viewers.

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, said: "This agreement means other EU member states are obliged to ... ensure that, if their broadcasters buy the exclusive rights to televise these events in the UK, they must give UK free-to-air channels the opportunity to show them. The European Commission has made a landmark decision. It has acknowledged it is for each individual member state to decide which events are of importance. It has also accepted that the UK's list of protected events should include the complete finals tournaments for both the football World Cup and European Championships."

He added that, while Italy, Germany and Denmark did not include the two international football championships in their entirety in their lists, "clear evidence" showed UK viewers were committed to watching entire tournaments.

Britain's listed events are: the Olympic Games, the World Cup Finals, the FA Cup Final, the Scottish FA Cup Final, the Grand National, the Derby, the Wimbledon tennis finals, the European football championships finals, the rugby league challenge cup final, and the rugby world cup final.

Despite the guarantees now offered over what ministers refer to as "crown jewel" sporting events, certain high profile live rights will remain potentially available to subscription broadcasters. These include coverage of Test matches played in England, non-finals at Wimbledon, the world athletics championship, the cricket world cup and the Open golf championship.

* Terry Wogan yesterday launched an outspoken attack on the BBC's radio and sports coverage, accusing station bosses of "fiddling the figures" and describing Grandstand as "a joke". In extracts from his forthcoming autobiography in the Radio Times, the 62-year-old presenter said the BBC had adopted the maxim "if it ain't broke - break it".

A BBC spokesman said: "Terry's memory is clouded by the mists of blarney."

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