The prospects for a revived European Super League (ESL) have been severely damaged following guidance by a senior advisor to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that governing bodies FIFA and UEFA are within their rights to sanction any clubs that join any such breakaway soccer competition.
The opinion, released today (December 15), states: “Whilst European Super League Company (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 organized by FIFA and UEFA without the prior authorization of those federations.”
Non-binding as it is, with a final judgement expected next year, it would effectively allow FIFA and UEFA to block any major competition that fell outside of their governance and with which they are not in favor.
As such, pursuing a revival of the ESL project in any feasible form would require the blessing of FIFA and UEFA.
The opinion, delivered by ECJ advocate general Athanasios Rantos, proposes that the court should rule that:
- The FIFA-UEFA rules under which any new competition is subject to prior approval are compatible with European Union competition law
- The 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 that would risk undermining the objectives legitimately pursued by those federations of which they are members
- The EU competition rules do not preclude the restrictions, in the FIFA Statute, concerning the exclusive marketing of the rights relating to the competitions organized by FIFA and UEFA
- EU law does not preclude the FIFA and UEFA Statutes, which provide that the setting up of a new pan-European interclub football competition is to be subject to a prior approval scheme
The judges of the ECJ will now begin their deliberations about the case taking into account the advocate general’s opinion.
The case was brought to the ECJ by ESLC last June following the collapse of the ESL project after only 48 hours in April before that.
The league had been proposed by 12 elite European clubs – Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid from Spain; Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool from England; and Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan from Italy.
However, the concept was widely rejected by almost all of European soccer’s range of stakeholders, with one of the main bones of contention being the proposed closed-shop format, without promotion to it or relegation from it.
Only Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus have continued to advocate for the ESL, and it is those clubs who are behind the ECJ case.
In October A22 Sports Management, the company that was set up to assist with the launch of the ESL appointed Bernd Reichart as its chief executive and held talks with UEFA in was viewed as the first step in an attempt to revive the project in some form.
However, UEFA subsequently panned A22 as “greedy” and having “nothing to say,” and today’s announcement suggests the goals of ESLC and A22 are dead in the water.
UEFA has welcomed the announcement, saying that it is in line with its mission to govern European football, protect the pyramid, and develop the game across Europe.
The body said: “The Opinion reinforces the central 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.
“Football in Europe remains united and steadfastly opposed to the European Super League, or any such breakaway proposals, which would threaten the entire European sports ecosystem.
“While we await the Court’s final judgment due next year, UEFA, as a public interest, not-for-profit governing body, will continue to be fully focused on its mission to develop football for all, in close cooperation with national associations, leagues, clubs, players, fans, EU institutions, governments and other relevant stakeholders who have the true values of football at heart.”
The European Club Association body that connects over 250 top-tier soccer clubs across the continent has also welcomed the decision, saying: “The opinion issued today by the ECJ’s advocate general Rantos proposes a clear rejection of the efforts of a few to undermine the foundations and historical heritage of European football for the many.”