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French bets ruling could be windfall for sport 13/6/2008
Matt Scott

A French high court ruling has paved the way for sports governing bodies to charge betting companies for permission to offer markets on their tournaments.

Fédération Française de Tennis
Fédération Française de Tennis
The decision, made last week, could help sport tap a commercial stream as significant as the multi-million pound broadcast-rights market. As a result of the ruling all internet bookmakers offering bets in France on sports events will be forced to pay a premium to the event's organiser. The ruling, following a case brought by the Fédération Française de Tennis against the internet firms Unibet and Expekt, follows a similar resolution from the 47-member-state Council of Europe in January. That declared an intention to "better protect the intellectual property of fixture lists for sports events".

The two Internet sites were banned by a French court from taking online bets in France on matches at the Roland-Garros tennis championship in Paris. Unibet and Expekt, both based in Malta, were also ordered to pay 800,000 euros (1.24 million dollars) in damages and interest to the French tennis federation, which owns the rights to the much-watched sporting classic.

In two distinct rulings, the court ruled that both sites "violated the operating monopoly conferred on the French tennis federation, the organisers of the tournament." It ordered Expekt to pay 300,000 euros in damages and interest, and Unibet 500,000 euros.

The verdict will be applicable in the UK, as British bookmakers such as Betfair, Ladbrokes and William Hill will have to pay for events such as the Tour de France.

The issue will be on the agenda at the summer meeting of the Sports Rights Owners Coalition, which will pressure government to introduce a similar system in the UK.

"There will be a very interesting question for the International Olympic Committee when it comes to Europe," said a high-level source. "If you are betting on London 2012 through an online operator in France you will have to pay the IOC. If Paris had won the right to the 2012 Games everybody would have been charged a premium but not in London. The IOC might like to address that with the government."