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UEFA & FIFA lose European Super League case: Man United leads rejections; Barcelona, Real Madrid support move

“The FIFA and UEFA rules on prior approval of interclub football competitions, such as the Super League, are contrary to EU law. They are contrary to competition law and the freedom to provide services," said the ruling by the ECJ.

football From Man United's rejection to Barcelona, Real Madrid's support - How clubs reacted to European Super League snt
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First Published Dec 21, 2023, 9:09 PM IST

The Court of Justice of the European Union on Thursday declared that FIFA and UEFA do not have the authority to prevent clubs from participating in the Super League. Following the initial unveiling of the project in 2021, both UEFA and FIFA had issued warnings that clubs and players joining the Super League could face bans from their existing competitions.

Despite initial participation from Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter, Juventus, and Real Madrid, significant backlash from fans led nine of these clubs to withdraw within days. In July 2023, Juventus also withdrew, while Real Madrid and Barcelona have maintained their commitment to forming the Super League in the coming years. The recent verdict on Thursday is expected to further bolster their confidence in pursuing the Super League.

Also read: 64 clubs, 3 divisions: European Super League unveils plans for brand new format after ECJ ruling

"The FIFA and UEFA rules making any new interclub football prohect subject to their prior approval, such as the Super League, and prohibiting clubs and players from playing in those competitions, are unlawful," a court statement read.

"There is no framework for the FIFA and UEFA rules ensuring that they are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate."

"Similarly, the rules giving FIFA and UEFA exclusive control over the commercial exploitation of the rights related to those competitions are such as to restrict competition, given their importance for the media, consumers and television viewers in the European Union."

"The Court observes that the organisation of interclub football competitions and the exploitation of the media rights are, quite evidently, economic activities. They must therefore comply with the competition rules and respect the freedoms of movement, even though the economic pursuit of sport has certain specific characteristics, such as the existence of associations having certain regulatory and control powers and the power to impose sanctions. The Court also observes that, in parallel with those powers, FIFA and UEFA themselves organise football competitions," the ruling added.

"Next, the Court holds that, where an undertaking in a dominant position has the power to determine the conditions in which potentially competing undertakings may access the market, that power must, given the risk of conflict of interest to which it gives rise, be subject to criteria which are suitable for ensuring that they are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate. However, the powers of FIFA and UEFA are not subject to any such criteria. FIFA and UEFA are, therefore, abusing a dominant position," it concluded.

The verdict mandates FIFA and UEFA to provide the entity responsible for the Super League a fair chance to establish the competition. However, crucially, it does not assure the actual realization of the Super League.

"That does not mean that a competition such as the Super League project must necessarily be approved," the statement added. "The Court, having been asked generally about the FIFA and UEFA rules, does not rule on that specific project in its Judgment."

From those against European Super League to those in favor - How clubs and leagues reacted to ECJ's ruling

Manchester United

Following this verdict, the Red Devils affirmed their unwavering commitment to collaborating with UEFA, even as several clubs express opposition to new proposals for a European Super League. “Our position has not changed,” Manchester United said in a statement. “We remain fully committed to participation in Uefa competitions, and to positive cooperation with Uefa, the Premier League, and fellow clubs through the ECA on the continued development of the European game.”

Bayern Munich

“Such a competition would be an attack on the importance of the national leagues and the structure of European football,” Jan Christian Dreesen, the chief executive of Bayern Munich, said. “The Bundesliga is the foundation of FC Bayern, just as all national leagues are the foundation of other European football clubs.

“It is therefore our duty and our deep conviction to strengthen them, not to weaken them. We are also committed to the European club competitions under the umbrella of UEFA. So let me make it very clear once again that the door for the Super League remains closed at FC Bayern.”

Atletico Madrid & Sevilla

Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, noted that the “football community does not support the European Super League”, while fellow La Liga competitors Sevilla posted a graphic on X (formerly Twitter) stating: “Earn it on the pitch”.

Also read: Blow for FIFA and UEFA as ECJ says rules banning of breakaway European Super League unlawful; reignites debate

Premier League

The Premier League has said it “continues to reject any concept” of a European Super League as opposition continues to new proposals put forward regarding a possible breakaway. Twelve teams, including six from the Premier League, were initially involved in the proposal two and a half years ago. However, all six Premier League clubs withdrew from the plan due to substantial opposition from their fans. Acknowledging the discontent among supporters, the English top flight has reiterated its commitment to the "clear principles of open competition."

“This is a significant ruling and we will now fully examine its implications for the game,” the Premier League said in a statment regarding the ECJ’s decision.

“The ruling does not endorse the so-called “European Super League” and the Premier League continues to reject any such concept. Supporters are of vital importance to the game and they have time and again made clear their opposition to a “breakaway” competition that severs the link between domestic and European football," it added.

“The Premier League reiterates its commitment to the clear principles of open competition that underpin the success of domestic and international club competitions. Football thrives on the competitiveness created by promotion and relegation, the annual merit-based qualification from domestic leagues and cups to international club competitions and the longstanding rivalries and rituals that come with weekends being reserved for domestic football."

“The Premier League will continue to engage in an open and constructive dialogue, with all relevant football stakeholders, on how best to protect and enhance the complementary balance of domestic and international club football," the statement concluded.

Barcelona

Barcelona, a club supporting the revival of the Super League, responded with a statement expressing contentment with the ruling's outcome. “As one of the clubs driving the Super League project, FC Barcelona feels that the sentence paves the way for a new elite level football competition in Europe by opposing the monopoly over the football world, and wishes to initiate new discussions as to the path that European competitions should take in the future,” their statement read.

Real Madrid

Barcelona's sentiments were mirrored by Real Madrid president Florentino Peréz, who, in a speech, stated, "First of all, that European club football is not and will never be a monopoly again."

"And secondly, that from today the clubs will be the owners of their destiny. Clubs see fully recognised our right to propose and promote European competitions that modernise our sport and attract fans from all over the world. In short, today the Europe of freedoms has triumphed again and today soccer and its fans have also triumphed.”

LaLiga

Meanwhile, a statement from LaLiga's official communications account clearly conveyed their stance on the issue. "Today, more than ever, we reiterate that the “Super League” is a selfish and elitist model. Anything that is not fully open, with direct access only through the domestic leagues, season by season, is a closed format. European football has spoken. Listen," it said.

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