By Paul Nicholson
October 27 – Europe’s MEPs have called for more government oversight of sports and have made it clear in their opposition to any ‘breakaway leagues’ in a report adopted by the Committee on Culture and Education by 29 votes to 1 with one 1 abstention.
Separately the EPP Group, the largest political group in the European Parliament with 179 members from all EU Member States, issued a statement saying sport must be based on the principles of solidarity and inclusiveness with open competitions and that consequently “it is important to further develop a European sports model and to protect it from threats like the European Super League”.
The noises coming from EU government will be welcomed by UEFA concerning the stance on the Super League and “breakaway competitions that undermine these standards and endanger the stability of the overall sports ecosystem”, said the European Parliament news release.
What UEFA, its leagues, clubs and other football associations and confederations around the world might feel more uncomfortable with is a call for using the German football club ownership model of the ‘50+1’ rule (private investors are only allowed to own up to 49% of the shares) as a best practice for other countries; as well as a demand that “national sports federations should equalise premium payments for female and male athletes, following the example of the Football Association of Ireland”.
Looking further than European boundaries, the MEPs said: “Countries whose governments repeatedly violate fundamental rights and values should no longer be able to host major sporting events. Member states and sports federations should also take into account human rights and democracy when choosing sponsors for sporting events.”
Where the EU MEPs will find fertile common ground is in their calls for a more financially transparent and better regulated transfer system and more funding from elite sport to be channelled into grassroots.
“Today, we sent a very clear message. Sport is a right for everyone and we need to ensure that it is safe, accessible, inclusive and equal for all. We need to achieve the right balance between pursuing its commercial interests and protecting the role of European sport, which brings people together, reduces the risk of illness and provides jobs to local communities”, said Tomasz Frankowski, member of the Culture and Education Committee and a former member of the Polish national football team. He added: “Especially now, we need to focus on preparing sport for long-term challenges such as post-pandemic recovery, innovation and environmental impact.”
Frankowski said that the EU was going to become more engaged with sport across its membership. “We propose to set up regular cooperation with all sports stakeholders and other institutions to deliver more targeted and accountable recommendations for action on numerous challenges facing the sport sector.”
In making its demands of sport, and football in particular, the EU similarly recognised the role of federations in governing their sport and encouraged closer coordination and cooperation with authorities and all relevant stakeholders, while at the same time acknowledging the diversity of approaches across the European continent – the EU’s membership does not cover all of UEFAs.
However, the core message will resonate is on the principles of solidarity, sustainability, inclusiveness, open competition, sporting merit, and fairness. Basically anything – like breakaway competitions – that undermines these principles and endanger the stability of the overall sports ecosystem is bad.
While the MEPs referenced the breakaway Super League proposal in Europe as an unacceptable danger, they were slightly more light footed around the proposals for a biennial World Cup, and while not mentioning FIFA by name were clearly looking in that direction with a call to sport organisations to respect the established frequency of international sports tournaments, especially the European and World Championships, while taking into account domestic competitions and the health of athletes and players.
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