FIFA and UEFA acted illegally over European Super League, EU's top court rules

By Isaac M December 21, 2023

FIFA and UEFA acted illegally in blocking the creation of the European Super League (ESL), the European Union’s top court has ruled.

The court had been asked to decide whether the two bodies acted against competition law with its rules which stopped the formation of the league in 2021 and then by seeking to sanction the clubs involved.

The European Court Of Justice said that such rules were “contrary to EU law, contrary to competition law and the freedom to provide services”, adding that FIFA and UEFA were abusing their dominant position in football.

The court’s ruling does not mean that a competition such as the ESL must necessarily be approved.

Judges added the court “does not rule on that specific project in its judgement”.

However, the ruling does bring fresh life into the proposals, which were thought to have been on hold after receiving widespread backlash from fans and clubs.

Its backers relaunched the Super League on Thursday after the judgment, proposing a three-tiered league and cup competition with teams from across Europe.

More on European Super League

The original proposal for the league, involving 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs including six English teams, collapsed shortly after it was announced in April 2021, sparking widespread condemnation.

Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester City were forced to pull out amid a furious backlash from rivals, fans and politicians.

A fan in the stands holds up a banner protesting against the European Super League ahead of the Carabao Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday April 25, 2021.
A fan protesting against the European Super League last year

‘Football is free’ – how does new ESL proposal work?

A22 Sports Management, the European commercial sports development company behind the ESL, said its new proposal for the league for both the men’s and women’s game was more open, based on merit and would feature promotion and relegation – addressing criticisms levelled at the 2021 plan.

The proposal for the men’s game involves the following:
• A 64-team European competition system;
• The top two leagues will be known as the Star League and Gold League – potential replacements for the Champions League and Europa League;
• The Star and Gold league will have 16 teams each;
• The bottom league will be known as the Blue League;
• Promotion into the bottom league will come from domestic leagues only, implying teams locked in the top two leagues would be hard to remove.

A22 also announced its intention to change the way fans watch football. It proposed a project called Unify, which would allow fans to watch every single game of the new competition on one platform, for free.

“This proposal has been shaped with the input of clubs with all sizes,” Bernd Reichart, the chief executive of A22 Sports, said in a statement.

A22 Sports initially challenged FIFA and UEFA’s right to block the formation of the ESL and impose sanctions on competing clubs in the courts.

The firm argued football’s international and European governing bodies have an unfair monopoly and market dominance on the running of club competitions.

After the ruling, Mr Reichart said in a statement posted on X: “We have won the #RightToCompete. The UEFA-monopoly is over. Football is FREE.

“Clubs are now free from the threat of sanction AND free to determine their own futures.”

UK ‘will stop clubs from joining’

In February, the UK government announced it was introducing a regulatory body for English football that prevents clubs joining breakaway leagues like the ESL.

Based on results from a fan-led government review, the regulator will also implement a licensing system for all clubs from the Premier League down to the National League.

Today, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, said it “stands by” its decision to create a new independent regulator for English football.

“We will shortly be bringing forward legislation that makes this a reality, and will stop clubs from joining any similar breakaway competitions in the future,” a spokesperson said.

What does the ruling mean for English football clubs?

In reaction to the European Court Of Justice’s (ECJ) ruling today, the UK government has said it plans to bring forward plans for a new independent regulator for English football.

The regulator will be given the power to stop English football clubs from joining new competitions that “harm the domestic game” – and a summary of the proposals said it would “safeguard against a future European Super League-style breakaway league”.

In effect, the regulator would prevent British clubs from joining the breakaway competition.
In addition, because the UK has now left the European Union, the clubs would not be able to appeal against this decision to the EU’s top court.

Plan ‘selfish and elitist’ – but two big clubs back it

In a damning view on the league, Spain’s LaLiga – the Spanish equivalent of the Premier League – called the breakaway competition “selfish and elitist” after the court ruling.

But its top two clubs – Real Madrid and Barcelona – remain enthusiastic backers of the rival project.

Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Perez, hailed the court ruling as a “great day for football and sports”.

Mr Perez was one of the leading figures in the breakaway competition, alongside Barcelona’s Joan Laporta Estruch.

In a video statement posted on X, Mr Estruch said: “We believe that the time has come for clubs and those who are owned by their members to have greater control over their destiny, over their future, over their sustainability.

“The new Super League format is not intended to go against the Spanish league, not against the national league. On the contrary, with an improved European competition and more resources for the clubs, the national leagues will become more balanced and competitive.”

The views of LaLiga’s two biggest clubs were in stark contrast to those of football fan network, Football Supporters Europe (FSE), who maintain any plans to form the ESL continue to “endanger the future” of European football.

“Whatever comes next, the Super League remains an ill-conceived project that endangers the future of European football. FSE, our members, and fans across Europe will continue to fight it,” the group said in a statement.

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UEFA ‘committed to uphold the European football pyramid’

Reacting on Thursday, UEFA said it takes note of the European court’s judgment, but said it does not signify an “endorsement or validation of the so-called super league”.

The body said it remains “resolute in its commitment to uphold the European football pyramid” and in ensuring that it continues to serve the “broader interests of society”.

“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,” UEFA said.

The binding ruling will now be referred back to the Madrid commercial court, which adjudicates legal corporate disputes, where a Spanish judge ruled teams should not be punished for their involvement in the ESL.


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