EC approves free French sports list

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BRUSSELS -- The soccer World Cup, the Tour de France, the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup are among "protected" events that must be broadcast on free-to-air television in France, it was revealed Tuesday.

The European Commission -- the European Union's executive authority -- said it has cleared the French list of events that broadcasters must offer to the general public. Under EU rules, any broadcaster that wins exclusive rights to these events must make them freely available on channels received by at least 85% of French homes.

The list includes the summer and winter Olympic Games, the soccer World Cup and European Championship semifinals and finals, the men's and women's singles finals in the French Open tennis tournament, the semifinals and finals of the Rugby World Cup, the Six Nations rugby tournament, the European basketball and handball championships when France is playing and the World Athletics Championship.

"With Europe due to host the Rugby World Cup in the autumn and the European Football Championship next year, I am pleased that France has availed itself of the right which the European Union has given it to provide the general public with free-to-air access to major events on widely viewed channels," EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said.

Under EU rules, national governments are able to protect popular and important sporting events so they are available to the wider public. This means that certain sporting events must be offered free to audiences, even if a foreign broadcaster buys rights to the event.

The controversial rules have been in place since 1997, but it is only now that Paris has submitted a list to the EU for approval. To date, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the U.K. have submitted national lists to the commission.
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