German public broadcaster ARD has been told it has no basis on which to bring a premature end to its contract with Tour de France organizers to televise the race during 2009-11.
A spate of recent doping scandals, some of which involved German and Austrian riders, prompted ARD and fellow German broadcaster ZDF to announce their intention to stop broadcasting the world’s biggest bike race.
But on Tuesday, Fritz Pleitgen, president of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which represents 75 public broadcasters, said ARD was tied by its contract with Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the company that owns the Tour.
Pleitgen said ARD and ZDF had acquired the television rights for 2009-11 alongside a group of 10 other public channels and would have to honor the deal.
“ARD, in conjunction with ZDF, signed a contract last January that covers the period from 2009-11 for a total of 6 million euros a year,” Pleitgen said, adding that ARD’s attempt to break its contract was “against the rules” of the EBU.
Pleitgen said both ARD and ZDF had included clauses in their contract demanding that Tour organizers employ “the most modern anti-doping controls” available.
“If these conditions are not respected by the organizers, the television channels can end their contract once it becomes valid on January 1, 2009,” added Pleitgen.
Seven riders from this year’s race have tested positive. Four of them — Italians Riccardo Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli, German Stefan Schumacher and Austrian Bernhard Kohl — tested positive for the latest generation of blood-boosting EPO (erythropoietin) called CERA.
Tour organizers have applauded the weeding out of cheating riders, calling it a positive step that will, they hope, deter others.
Pleitgen, who helps to negotiate television rights deals for the Olympic Games and World Cup, said he hoped that ARD/ZDF and ASO would “come to a common agreement without having to go through the courts.”
He added that a pullout by ARD would “make it more difficult” to obtain such rights in the future because “the confidence would no longer be there.”
The Tour de France is one of the most popular televised sports events in Germany. Pleitgen said breaking the contract “would be hard to defend to the German people who pay their television license fees.”