UEFA and FIFA’s rules giving them the right to block clubs from joining a breakaway league and penalise players for doing so are compatible with EU law, an adviser to Europe’s top court said on Thursday.
The European Court of Justice made the ruling after a dispute between the two bodies and the European Super League, which collapsed within 48 hours in April 2021 after a backlash from fans, governments and players which forced nine of the 12 teams who signed up to pull out.
The clubs that withdrew included all six of the Premier League teams involved – Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal – alongside AC Milan, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid, leaving just Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus still signed up to the competition.
A22 Sports Management, the company formed to sponsor and assist in the creation of the proposed 12-team breakaway league in April last year, argued that UEFA and FIFA abused a dominant position under European competition law in first blocking the league’s formation and then in their effects to sanction the clubs involved.
But Advocate General Athanasios Rantos at the EU Court of Justice ruled on Thursday: “The FIFA-UEFA rules under which any new competition is subject to prior approval are compatible with EU competition law.”
“Whilst ESLC is free to set up its own independent football competition outside the UEFA and FIFA ecosystem, it cannot however, in parallel with the creation of such a competition, continue to participate in the football competitions organised by FIFA and UEFA without the prior authorisation of those federations.”
A full verdict is expected from the EU Court of Justice in spring 2023.
UEFA described the European court’s ruling as “an encouraging step towards preserving the existing dynamic and democratic governance structure of the European football pyramid”.
“UEFA warmly welcomes today’s unequivocal Opinion recommending a ruling of the CJEU in support of our central mission to govern European football, protect the pyramid and develop the game across Europe,” a statement from European football’s governing body read.
“Football in Europe remains united and steadfastly opposed to the ESL, or any such breakaway proposals, which would threaten the entire European sports ecosystem.”
What does this mean?
The EU ruling is a blow to the Super League organisers, who were bringing the discussion of a breakaway league back into the limelight, 20 months after the original plan was scrapped.
In October of this year, Bernd Reichart was hired as Super League chief executive by A22 Sports Management and he began initiating talks with football stakeholders across Europe and, while he is aware discussions can continue without input from England’s big six, he is hopeful they will engage.
Asked if the 2024/25 season was the earliest the failed project could start up again, Reichart said: “That might be the first reasonable and realistic call but there are so many variables that I can’t actually foresee. That is probably the first realistic call.”
Since the Super League plan failed, UEFA reformed the current Champions League model, which included allowing two wildcard teams to automatically qualify for the tournament based on previous achievements in the competition, should they fail to secure a spot via their domestic leagues.