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Super League: Court Rules FIFA and UEFA Regulations Blocking It as Unlawful

In a significant legal development, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered a groundbreaking verdict, declaring the FIFA and UEFA rules impeding the formation of a potential European Super League as “unlawful.” The verdict comes after the European Super League Company (ESLC) initiated legal proceedings against both governing bodies in April 2021.

European Super League Image Credits Twitter Super League: Court Rules FIFA and UEFA Regulations Blocking It as Unlawful
European Super League, Image Credits – Twitter

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The dispute originated when 12 English, Spanish, and Italian football clubs sought to establish a rival competition to the Champions League. However, the venture faced a rapid demise due to vehement opposition from fans and the looming threat of severe sanctions from UEFA.

Despite an initial non-binding verdict last December, which suggested that UEFA had acted within the bounds of EU law, the final decision from the ECJ now asserts that both FIFA and UEFA are guilty of “abusing a dominant position” and violating competition law.

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European Court of Justice Deems FIFA and UEFA Regulations Against Super League ‘Unlawful’

According to the ECJ, “The FIFA and UEFA rules requiring prior approval for any new interclub football project, such as the Super League, and prohibiting clubs and players from participating in those competitions, are unlawful.”

This ruling is poised to empower entities seeking to challenge UEFA’s authority, notably with Real Madrid and Barcelona remaining steadfast in their commitment to the idea of a breakaway league. Clubs can now explore opportunities without the looming threat of punitive measures. A22, the sports management company spearheading a new European competition, hails this as a significant victory, signaling a potential shift in the landscape of European football.

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ECA Official Statement on Super League Image Credits Twitter Super League: Court Rules FIFA and UEFA Regulations Blocking It as Unlawful
ECA Official Statement on Super League, Image Credits – Twitter

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) comprised of fifteen judges has issued a binding verdict after extensive deliberation, solidifying its status as the highest court in the EU and rendering the ruling immune to appeals.

The court declared, “The Court holds that, where an undertaking in a dominant position has the power to determine the conditions in which potentially competing undertakings may access the market, that power must, given the risk of conflict of interest to which it gives rise, be subject to criteria which are suitable for ensuring that they are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory, and proportionate.”

However, FIFA and UEFA’s powers, according to the ECJ, are not subject to such criteria, leading to the conclusion that both entities are ‘abusing a dominant position.'”

ECJ Ruling Liberates Clubs: End of UEFA’s Monopoly Era

We’ve won the right to compete,” said Bernd Reichart, A22 chief executive. “UEFA’s monopoly is over. Football is free. Now the clubs will not suffer threats and punishments. They are free to decide their own future.”

Bernd Reichart Image Credits News18 Super League: Court Rules FIFA and UEFA Regulations Blocking It as Unlawful
Bernd Reichart, Image Credits – News18

The legal scrutiny arose from the launch and subsequent collapse of the Super League in April 2021. While the ECJ focused on whether UEFA was operating a monopoly, it refrained from passing judgment on the proposal of a breakaway league.

Given their arbitrary nature, their rules on approval, control, and sanctions must be held to be 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 ruling added, emphasizing the need for transparent and fair criteria in the regulatory powers of football governing bodies.

What are the Responses from UEFA and FIFA Following the ECJ’s Verdict?

Following the verdict, UEFA issued a statement, stating, “UEFA takes note of the judgment delivered today by the ECJ in the European Super League case. 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-authorization framework, a technical aspect that has already been acknowledged and addressed in June 2022. UEFA is confident in the robustness of its new rules, and specifically, that they comply with all relevant European laws and regulations.”

UEFA Logo Image Credits Official Website Super League: Court Rules FIFA and UEFA Regulations Blocking It as Unlawful
UEFA Logo, Image Credits – Official Website

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.

As of now, FIFA has not yet released a statement regarding the ECJ’s verdict.

How Have the Clubs Responded to the Verdict?

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez expressed, “At Real Madrid, we welcome with great satisfaction the decision taken by the Court of Justice of the European Union, which is responsible for guaranteeing our principles, values, and freedoms. In the coming days, we will study the scope of this ruling in detail, but I would like to anticipate two conclusions of great historical significance. Firstly, that European club football is not and will never again be a monopoly. And secondly, that from today the clubs will be the masters of their destiny.”

licensed image 21 Super League: Court Rules FIFA and UEFA Regulations Blocking It as Unlawful
MADRID, SPAIN – DECEMBER 17: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) president Florentino Perez of Real Madrid looks on during the training session of Real Madrid on December 17, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

We, the clubs, see our right to propose and promote European competitions that modernize our sport and attract fans from all over the world fully recognized. In short, today the Europe of freedoms has triumphed once again, and today football and its fans have triumphed too.

Barcelona, in a statement, expressed their perspective: “As one of the clubs driving the Super League project, FC Barcelona feels that the sentence paves the way for a new elite level football competition in Europe by opposing the monopoly over the football world, and wishes to initiate new discussions as to the path that European competitions should take in the future.

How Has the Broader Response Been?

La Liga, a staunch opponent of the Super League project since its inception, responded in a statement, stating, “Today, more than ever, we reiterate that the ‘Super League’ is a selfish and elitist model. Anything that is not fully open, with direct access only through the domestic leagues, season by season, is a closed format. European football has spoken. Listen.”

licensed image 20 Super League: Court Rules FIFA and UEFA Regulations Blocking It as Unlawful
MADRID, SPAIN – MAY 25: Javier Tebas, President of La Liga, attends his press conference at headquarters of La Liga on May 25, 2023, in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Oscar J. Barroso / AFP7 via Getty Images)

The Union of European Clubs (UEC), a newly-formed group of smaller European clubs supported by La Liga president Javier Tebas, also chimed in, saying, “The UEC resolutely supports UEFA as the regulator of European football, firmly opposing A22’s efforts to destabilize the game. The Super League proposition is an elitist move aimed at concentrating power and financial gains in the hands of a few clubs, undermining merit.

The ill-fated plan to establish a European Super League was announced on April 18, 2021, with twelve of Europe’s leading clubs from England, Spain, and Italy confirming their intention to launch their own midweek competition to rival UEFA’s Champions League.

Super League will Return with New Proposals Involving ‘60 to 80’ Teams

The competition proposed initially included Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Barcelona, and Real Madrid.

However, the first nine clubs on the list withdrew their support in the face of severe criticism from politicians, broadcasters, pundits, and coaches. In contrast, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus maintained their commitment. Juventus later confirmed their intention to withdraw from any future plans in June of this year.

In February, organizers unveiled a revised format for the contentious tournament, proposing a “multi-divisional competition” with 60 to 80 teams. The revamped Super League, they claimed, would be solely based on “sporting performance,” with no permanent members.

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