Uefa, Fifa breached EU law on Super League, top court rules

Decision stirs up the arguments that swirled around the original Super League plan in 2021

By Reuters

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Photo: AFP file
Photo: AFP file

Published: Thu 21 Dec 2023, 6:52 PM

Last updated: Thu 21 Dec 2023, 7:43 PM

Uefa and Fifa contravened EU law by preventing the formation of a Super League, the European Court of Justice said on Thursday, but though breakaway organisers welcomed the landmark ruling, major leagues and clubs moved quickly to support the status quo.

The decision stirred up the arguments that swirled around the original Super League plan in 2021 as the ECJ has ruled against the principle of the governing bodies restricting a new league, but crucially added that the judgement did not necessarily mean such a league must be approved.

The 12 leading European clubs that proposed forming the breakaway league (ESL), which sparked widespread protests among fans, had been threatened with sanctions by Uefa if they went ahead with the plan, leading to nine of them pulling out.

Sports development company A22, formed to assist with creating the ESL, had claimed Uefa and global governing body Fifa held a monopoly position which was in breach of the EU's Competition and Free Movement Law.

Soon after the verdict A22 released plans for a new competition that would feature 64 men's teams and 32 women's teams competing in a midweek league, threatening Uefa's flagship Champions League tournament.

In its ruling, the EU's top court said that Fifa and Uefa abused their dominant position by forbidding clubs to compete in a European Super League, although that project may still not be approved as the court did not rule on it specifically.

Uefa has organised pan-European competitions for nearly 70 years and sees the ESL project as a significant threat to the lucrative Champions League, for which teams qualify on merit.

Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and nine other top clubs announced the breakaway plan in April, 2021.

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

Shares in Juventus, listed on the Italian Stock Exchange, rose more than 10% on prospects for a revived ESL, with trading having to be halted because of excessive volatility.

A22 said the verdict meant they had won the right to compete.

"The Uefa-monopoly is over. Football is free," CEO Bernd Reichart said in a statement. "Clubs are now free from the threat of sanction and free to determine their own futures."

Shortfall addressed

Uefa said the ruling did not signify an endorsement or validation of the Super League and that it had addressed a shortfall which had been highlighted in its own framework.

"We will not try to stop them. They can create whatever they want. I hope they start their fantastic competition as soon as possible, with two clubs," Uefa President Aleksander Ceferin told a news conference.

Fifa said it would analyse the decision in coordination with Uefa, other confederations and the member associations before commenting further.

Manchester United and Bayern Munich issued statements saying they remained committed to Uefa's competitions.

The UK government said it was working on legislation to prevent English clubs from joining another breakaway competition.

Spain's LaLiga said: "Today, more than ever, we reiterate that the 'Super League' is a selfish and elitist model."

The court's ruling said Fifa and Uefa must "comply with the competition rules and respect the freedoms of movement", adding that their rules on approval, control and sanctions amounted to "unjustified restrictions on the freedom to provide services".

"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 judgement," it concluded.

After the collapse of the ESL plan, only three clubs remained in support of it, but Juventus opted to pull out this year after their former chairman Andrea Agnelli, one of the figures behind the project, and the club's board resigned in November 2022.

Spanish court

Real and Barcelona still hoped to go ahead with the competition and the ESL took its case to a Spanish court, which subsequently sought guidance from the Luxembourg-based European Court.

Real Madrid President Florentino Perez said the ruling marked "a before and after" for football.

"The present and future of European football are finally in the hands of the clubs, the players and their fans," Perez said in a pre-recorded video statement.

Barcelona said they were satisfied with the ruling and that the creation of the ESL would allow football to address issues of fixture overload, putting "local and international players and supporters at the centre".

"The medium-term sustainability of European football entails the need create a concept along the lines of the Super League," the club said in a statement.

The ruling will now be considered by the Spanish court, where a judge can apply its responses to facts of the case.


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