What does the European Super League verdict mean for football?

22 December 2023 - 11:00 By Reuters
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The Uefa offices in Nyon, Switzerland.
The Uefa offices in Nyon, Switzerland.
Image: Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

The European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday that European soccer's governing body Uefa and its global counterpart Fifa breached EU law when they prevented 12 clubs from forming a European Super League (ESL).

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus plus nine other European major clubs announced the breakaway ESL — a closed league — in April 2021.

Sports development company A22 assisted with creating the ESL.

However, the move collapsed within 48-hours after an outcry from fans and governments and players forced Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid to pull out.

A22 CEO Bernd Reichart said the ESL wanted to break what he described was a monopoly of competitions run by Uefa, which has organised European competitions for nearly 70 years and sees the ESL as a threat.

When the breakaway clubs were threatened with sanctions, the ESL went to court claiming Uefa and Fifa held a monopoly position in breach of the EU's Competition and Free Movement Law.

Despite nine clubs pulling out, the three holdouts — Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus — hoped to get the ESL up and running.

However, Juventus opted to pull out earlier this year when the Italian club's board changed.

Real and Barca took the case to a Spanish court, which subsequently sought guidance from the Luxembourg-based European Court.

The court said Uefa and Fifa contravened EU law by preventing the formation of a Super League and abused their dominant position by forbidding clubs to compete in the ESL.

The court said regulating and organising sporting competitions was not an infringement of EU competition law and sports federations can refuse third parties access to the market, but only if the refusal is justified by genuine objectives.

The court said at this moment “there is no framework for Fifa and Uefa rules ensuring they are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate”.

The court's ruling said both bodies must “comply with the competition rules and respect the freedoms of movement”, adding t their rules on approval, control and sanctions amounted to unjustified restrictions on the freedom to provide services.

“The court observes the organisation of inter-club football competitions and the exploitation of the media rights are, quite evidently, economic activities,” it said.

“They must therefore comply with the competition rules and respect the freedoms of movement.”

However, the court said the judgment did not necessarily mean the ESL project must be approved. That is for the Spanish court to decide.

In this case, the Court of Justice only interpreted EU law or the validity of an EU act, it did not decide the dispute itself.

The verdict means European clubs can join another continental league, without the threat of sanctions, instead of playing in competitions run solely by Uefa.

Soon after the verdict, A22 released another proposal for new competitions with 64 men's and 32 women's teams playing midweek matches in a league system across Europe.

Although the initial Super League project was a closed competition, the new one would see clubs participate based on sporting merit with no permanent members. The clubs would also stay in their respective domestic leagues.

However, there is no guarantee the Premier League clubs will sign up for the new competition.

Two months after the six English clubs pulled out of the project in 2021, they said they would pay a combined £22m (R515m) as “a gesture of goodwill”.

They face a 30-point deduction if they attempt a similar move in future while the Premier League also said they would each be fined £25m (R585m) if they attempt another breakaway.

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