UEFA and FIFA‘s opposition to the £4.6 billion European Super League project has suffered a major setback following a new court judgement which found it is ‘illegal’ for governing bodies prevent clubs and players joining rival competitions.
Football’s governing bodies moved decisively last week when more details of the proposed league emerged and they immediately threated to ban any club or player who took part.
The league, which is believed to be driven by Europe’s biggest clubs, including, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Manchester United, would create a virtually closed-shop competition of 20 clubs, with 15 founder members having guaranteed participation.
Liverpool as one the Big Six clubs in English football would be included in super league plans
These privileged teams would be awarded up to £310m to join the competition and as much as £213m from competing in the league, which it’s been claimed would ‘destroy’ English football.
The plan is more threatening than anything that has been proposed before in the eyes of football’s governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA
Their threat would mean that clubs who participated in the highly lucrative super league would be banned from the Champions League, Europa League and any FIFA Club World Cup event, and the players would not be allowed to take part in World Cups or European Championships.
Real Madrid are one of the clubs pushing hard for a European Super League
Super League Plans
Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan are the driving forces behind the plans for a European Super League, to replace UEFA’s Champions League, according to The Times.
An 18-page proposal includes details of the proposed league, which includes plans for the format, membership, prize money and even financial fair play rules.
The current proposal is for the league to have 15 permanent founder members, who would receive greater financial reward and five annual qualifiers.
The league would be divided into two groups of 10. The top four in each group would compete in quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final, which would be held at a weekend.
Participating teams would play between 18 and 23 matches a season, as well as competing in their domestic leagues.
It is believed the plan would be for six clubs to be included as founder members from England — this could be the Big Six of Liverpool, the two Manchester City and United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur — plus three from Spain, three from Italy, two from Germany and one from France.
The venture is believed to have the support of investment bank JP Morgan Chase
The document highlights the benefits of the super league, including huge revenues for participating clubs as well as the ability to offset losses associated with Covid.
The privileged teams with ‘founder member’ status would be awarded up to £310m to join the competition and as much as £213m from competing in the partially closed league.
However, two European courts have now passed judgements overturning similar moves by other sporting federations, making the threat by football’s governing bodies appear hollow.
‘With these judgements the position of clubs and players has improved because it puts them on a more equal footing with the governing bodies,’ said Mark Orth, of MEOlaw based in Munich.
‘UEFA and FIFA’s position in opposition to a European Super League has been weakened by these judgements.’
As reported by Sportsmail, the European Commission has previously ruled that the International Skating Union cannot prevent speed skaters from participating in new money-spinning events. That decision was supported in a judgement in Europe’s second highest court, the General Court in Luxembourg, last month.
And now a German court has for the first time used that decision as a precedent to prevent the German and international wrestling federations from blocking a new competition.
The latest decisive action came on Tuesday in the Higher Regional Court of Nuremburg in Germany – the same court where the famous Nuremburg trials took place after the Second World War.
While German wrestlers may seem remote from the riches and glamour of elite soccer, the case is seen by competition lawyers as particularly significant because it closely resembles the situation in European football.
The upstart league launched a new wresting competition in Germany for clubs and athletes, but official federations reacted by threatening any club taking part with a ban from their competitions and the wrestlers were told they would not be selected for international competition, including the Olympics.
”The court has said that the sanctions put forward by the wrestling federations are illegal and contrary to competition law,’ added Orth.
‘In the end, the judgement means that the clubs and athletes can take part in the independent league and the national competition at the same time and the athletes can be representatives in international competitions.’
It also creates the possibility for clubs or athletes to seek damage should they be prevented from competing.
Wrestling is popular in Germany with more than 400 clubs across the nation
Wrestling is an Olympic sport in which Germany excels, having produced seven champions
FIFA and UEFA have threatened clubs and players who participate in any European Super League with a ban from their competitions, but lawyers are sceptical about that claim
Competition law is notoriously complex, and should the European Super League challenge UEFA and FIFA in court there would still be significant areas of contention, not least around scheduling of fixtures.
However, the judgements say that it is not enough for a dominant governing body to simply argue there are no free dates, or that their own investment in a sport will be undermined, to prevent a new competitor entering the market.
Orth says that preventing athletes from competing would be, in his view, an abuse of FIFA and UEFA’s ‘dominant position’ in European competition law.
The European Super League plan has re-emerged following comments from Real Madrid’s President Florentino Perez.
Impact of the European Super League could be felt down to the National League and beyond
He urged football to embrace change amid the coronavirus pandemic earlier this month in his most recent pitch for the competition to be created.
‘Real Madrid played a part in the foundation of FIFA and the European Cup and the current model needs a reboot, as the impact of COVID-19 has demonstrated. Football needs new momentum and Real Madrid will be right there at the heart of it.’
But UEFA and FIFA have dominant positions they want to protect and enhance.
UEFA is considering its own plans to expand the continental competition from 32 or 36 clubs in 2024 and FIFA is developing its own tournament – a 24-team Club World Cup.
Meanwhile, supporters look on in concern at the powerplays at the top of the European game.
Football Supporters’ Association’s Kevin Miles fears super league may destroy domestic game
‘It destroys domestic football,’ Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, previously told Sportsmail.
‘The [European Super League] proposals are the latest incarnation of the greed of European clubs and their complete disregard in their pursuit of money over all principles and traditions of football.
‘They want to siphon off more and more resources to a handful of elite clubs with a guarantee of participation. It’s a bad idea.
‘It would ultimately be the death of many of the already struggling clubs in the English football pyramid.’
The FSA fears a super league would increase the revenue for the Big Six in English football, while cutting the income for other top-tier teams, since broadcasters would be unlikely to pay as much for the Premier League.
FIFA statement in full
In light of recent media speculation about the creation of a closed European ‘Super League’ by some European clubs, FIFA and the six confederations (AFC, CAF, Concacaf, CONMEBOL, OFC and UEFA) once again would like to reiterate and strongly emphasise that such a competition would not be recognised by either FIFA or the respective confederation.
Any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organised by FIFA or their respective confederation.
As per the FIFA and confederations statutes, all competitions should be organised or recognised by the relevant body at their respective level, by FIFA at the global level and by the confederations at the continental level.
In this respect, the confederations recognise the FIFA Club World Cup, in its current and new format, as the only worldwide club competition while FIFA recognises the club competitions organised by the confederations as the only club continental competitions.
The universal principles of sporting merit, solidarity, promotion and relegation, and subsidiarity are the foundation of the football pyramid that ensures football’s global success and are, as such, enshrined in the FIFA and confederation statutes.
Football has a long and successful history thanks to these principles. Participation in global and continental competitions should always be won on the pitch.