The President-elect of Europe’s public broadcasters called at the United Nations today for national governments and international bodies to guarantee that all major sporting events are shown on free-to-air television.

Arne Wessberg, Director-General of the Finnish Broadcasting Company, told the fifth UN World Television Forum that public broadcasters could not fulfil their democratic, social and cultural mission without sport that was important to their audiences.

‘All of us – broadcasters, international and national sports federations, and also nation states and international bodies such as the United Nations, Unesco, the European Union and the Council of Europe – should take on greater responsibility for securing unrestricted access to broadcasts from major sport events and for ensuring that the cost of sports rights remain reasonable,’ he said.

President of the pan-European sports channel Eurosport until the end of this year, Wessberg takes office as President of the European Broadcasting Union in 2001. Grouping 69 national broadcasters from 50 countries in and around Europe, the Geneva-based EBU buys broadcasting rights to sporting events on behalf of its members and transmits coverage over its Eurovision network. The EBU holds European rights to many major sporting events – including every Olympic Games until 2008 – but lost out to pay-TV interests in bidding for rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cup football competitions.

The arrival of new pay-TV channels that use exclusive access to popular sports as a way to attract subscribers was driving up costs to ‘incredible levels’ and undermining ‘the complex relationship between sports and society’, Wessberg said. By contrast, acquisition of rights by public broadcasters allowed major events to be televised in ways ‘that honour national, cultural and linguistic traditions’.

Wessberg warned against the current trends of TV companies buying sporting clubs or associations, or vice versa. ‘The danger in such vertical integration is that contents and events will be arranged solely with television schedules in mind,’ he said. ‘If this happens, and contact is lost with sport’s essential values and cultural foundations, sport will end up becoming no more than just one more consumer product of the market economy.’

For further information:
David Lewis, Press Attaché, EBU.
Tel: +41 79 217 0934.

For information on the UN World Television Forum: