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International

EU Legal Adviser Sides with UEFA, FIFA in Super League Case

December 15, 2022

BRUSSELS — UEFA and FIFA should have backing from the European Court of Justice to block Super League, an EU senior legal adviser proposed on Thursday.

Advocate General Athanasios Rantos dealt the blow to Super League promoters who want to break from traditional European competitions.

He proposed the court recognize that FIFA-UEFA rules under which Super League should be subject to prior approval are compatible with European Union competition law.

While promoters were entitled to set up an independent competition outside UEFA and FIFA, they can’t also continue to play in events sanctioned by UEFA and FIFA without their blessing, Rantos said.

Advocates general routinely provide legal guidance to the ECJ. Their opinions aren’t binding on the Luxembourg-based court but are followed in most cases.

Rantos acknowledged UEFA and FIFA could restrict competitors’ access to the European market of organizing soccer competitions. But he insisted “such a fact, if established, does not manifestly mean that those rules have the object of restricting competition.”

UEFA “warmly” welcomed the opinion, saying it was “an encouraging step towards preserving the existing dynamic and democratic governance structure of the European football pyramid.”

UEFA said Rantos’ opinion reinforced the role of federations “in protecting the sport, upholding fundamental principles of sporting merit and open access across our members, as well as uniting football with shared responsibility and solidarity.”

The European Club Association, which represents Europe’s top football clubs, was also satisfied by Rantos’ opinion, saying it was “a clear rejection of the efforts of a few to undermine the foundations and historical heritage of European football for the many.”

The case was heard in July at the court after Super League failed at launch in April 2021. But the company formed by 12 rebel clubs — now led by Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus — started legal action and the Court of Justice was asked to rule on points of EU law by a Madrid tribunal.

The clubs accused UEFA of alleged abuses of its market dominance of soccer competitions that breach European law.

UEFA’s defense was that it protected the special place of sports in European society by running competitions in a pyramid structure open to all, and funded the grassroots of the game.

Widespread condemnation hit the rebels clubs from England, Spain and Italy last year when they unveiled plans of a largely closed competition as an alternative to the UEFA-run Champions League. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin called the club leaders “snakes” and “liars” and threatened to ban players from Super League clubs.

The advocate general said the court should also state that EU competition rules do not prohibit FIFA, UEFA, their member federations or their national leagues “from issuing threats of sanctions against clubs affiliated to those federations when those clubs participate in a project to set up a new competition which would risk undermining the objectives legitimately pursued by those federations of which they are members.”

A final ruling is expected next year. It is the court’s most anticipated sports decision since the so-called Bosman Ruling in 1995. That case upended soccer’s transfer system, drove up pay for top players, and ultimately accelerated a wealth and competitive divide between rich clubs and the rest.

 

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