The opportunity appears to be opening up for satellite and cable companies to secure international athletics coverage.
It may also mean top races being subjected to the pay-per-view system being employed by BSkyB for the forthcoming Frank Bruno-Mike Tyson fight. Earlier this week an alliance was announced between BSkyB and similar companies in Germany and France with a view to developing pay TV across Europe.
The IAAF World Cross- Country Championships two weeks from now in Cape Town will go ahead without television coverage other than a deal agreed with the South African cable company, M Net.
Bo Gentzl, the Swedish representative for the EBU, warned that time was running out for a new agreement to replace the one which expired last year.
"It is possible that next year's World Championships in Athens will not be on terrestrial television in Europe but will only be seen on pay-TV or by subscribers to cable or satellite channels," he said. "Negotiations with the IAAF began a year ago and so far we have not seen any progress. We are miles apart."
After initially offering the same price they had paid for the last contract - $91m - the EBU has reduced its offer to a third of that, citing disappointing audience figures. The IAAF president, Primo Nebiolo, has asked for $150m.
"We have gone down and they have gone up," Gentzl said. "A lot of our big nations were saying that the cost was too high and that 91 million was a bad deal."
"The European Athletic Association has just signed its own four-year contract with the EBU for around 20 million Swiss francs to put events such as the European Championships and European Cup on terrestrial television.
"The EAA has a more realistic opinion of the value of different events," Gentzl added.Reuse content