European Court rules blocking of European Super League broke EU competition law

By Andrew Warshaw

December 21 – In a bombshell decision that could have significant ramifications, the European Court of Justice ruled today that UEFA and FIFA broke EU competition rules by attempting to block the seemingly doomed breakaway Super League.

The judgement, arguably the most seismic since the Bosman ruling of 1995 that changed the face of European football, surprisingly went against the advice of the ECJ’s own advocate general whose non-binding opinion a year ago found in favour of UEFA’s position.

The ECJ ruling, described by supporters of the Super League project as Judgement Day, will breath new life into their bid to set up a rival to the Champions League and will be seen as a blow to the authority of UEFA and FIFA and how they govern the game.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin had derided those at the heart of the original Super League project as “snakes” while UEFA threatened to ban players from Super League clubs from its own competitions.

But the 15 Grand Chamber judges in Luxembourg said in their verdict that “the FIFA and UEFA rules making any new interclub football project subject to their prior approval, such as the Super League, and prohibiting clubs and players from playing in those competitions, are unlawful.”

FIFA and UEFA were “abusing a dominant position”, the court declared. “There is no framework for the FIFA and UEFA rules ensuring that they are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate.”

The original Super League idea collapsed spectacularly in April 2021 when all but a handful of the 12 clubs involved pulled out amid a global fans backlash.

That prompted three remaining rebel clubs – Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid – to start legal action and last February, A22, the company set up to keep the Super League concept alive, announced revised plans for a breakaway event featuring 60 to 80 teams outside of UEFA auspices which, it insisted crucially, would be open to all and not a closed shop, with both promotion and relegation.

A22 argued that UEFA and FIFA were breaking competition law by creating a monopoly and threatening to sanction clubs and players who joined the breakaway league.

“After almost 70 years as the sole regulator, gatekeeper and dominant commercial operator of the European football market, UEFA’s monopoly may finally end! We are on the threshold of a new, better era for #EuropeanClubFootball,” the company tweeted following the ECJ verdict.

Bernd Reichart, the chief executive of A22, added: “We have won the right to compete. The UEFA monopoly is over. Football is free. Clubs are now free from the threat of sanction and free to determine their own futures.”

However, the judgement is not tantamount to a legal approval of any breakaway league, rather confirmation that forbidding its creation was in violation of EU law.

“That does not mean that a competition such as the Super League project must necessarily be approved. The Court, having been asked generally about the FIFA and UEFA rules, does not rule on that specific project in its judgment,” the ECJ statement stressed.

Whether a revived Super League actually happens is highly questionable. For a start, with Juventus having pulled out a few months ago, only Real Madrid and Barcelona remain as drivers of the project.

Not only that. In September, the European Club Association signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding with UEFA which runs until July 2030. Within the MoU is an undertaking that the ECA “ensure that none of its member clubs participate in any competition that is not organised or recognised by UEFA or FIFA”.

Not surprisingly both UEFA and the ECA fiercely defended their positions following the ECJ verdict.

“This ruling does not signify an endorsement or validation of the so-called ‘super league’; it rather underscores a pre-existing shortfall within UEFA’s pre-authorisation framework, a technical aspect that has already been acknowledged and addressed in June 2022,” Uefa said, adding it was “confident in the robustness of its new rules, and specifically that they comply with all relevant European laws and regulations. “

“UEFA remains resolute in its commitment to uphold the European football pyramid, ensuring that it continues to serve the broader interests of society. We will continue to shape the European sports model collectively with national associations, leagues, clubs, fans, players, coaches, EU institutions, governments and partners alike.

“We trust that the solidarity-based European football pyramid that the fans and all stakeholders have declared as their irreplaceable model will be safeguarded against the threat of breakaways by European and national laws.”

The ECA was even more adamant in its interpretation of the ECJ judgement.

“To be absolutely clear, the judgment in no way whatsoever supports or endorses any form of Super League project,” it insisted.

“In short, the world of football moved on from the Super League years ago and progressive reforms will continue. Most importantly, football is a social contract not a legal contract – all the recognised stakeholders of European and world football – spanning confederations, federations, clubs, leagues, players and fans – stand more united than ever against the attempts by a few individuals pursing personal agendas to undermine the very foundations and basic principles of European football.”

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