Blow to Super League project and Barça as European Court sides with UEFA
Advocate General's opinion says FIFA and UEFA rules requiring authorisation for new competitions are compatible with EU law
The European Court of Justice has dealt a significant blow to the Super League breakaway football competition, of which FC Barcelona are one of the few remaining members, in a non-binding ruling released on Thursday morning.
The opinion of Advocate General Athanasios Rantos is that FIFA and UEFA rules which state that any new competition being formed requires prior approval from those federations are compatible with EU competition law.
The legal expert believes that while the European Super League Company 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."
Effectively, the court recognises the right for clubs to set up a new Super League competition, but in order to pursue it, the clubs and players would have to entirely leave the currently established network of football competition, including domestic leagues, UEFA competitions, and international competitions organised by FIFA such as the World Cup.
The Super League's complaint, initially filed with a court in Madrid before being elevated to the continental level, was centered on the established federations holding a monopoly over the organisation of the sport in Europe. However, the opinion of the European Court of Justice is that the federations do indeed hold a monopoly, but that is acceptable in the court's eyes as the statutes of FIFA and UEFA are aimed at achieving the "legitimate objectives related to the specific nature of sport."
The Advocate General's opinion also stated that EU competition rules do not prohibit FIFA, UEFA, or their member federations and national leagues from issuing threats of sanctions against affiliated clubs when they participate in a project to set up a new competition which would "risk undermining the objectives legitimately pursued by those federations."
Ratos's opinion is not necessarily binding, although it is the standard procedure for the final decision to agree with the opinion of the Advocate General.
He believes that the sport is based on a pyramid structure with the amateur game at its base and professional football at its summit, and that football's primary objectives include the promotion of "open competitions, which are accessible to all by virtue of a transparent system in which promotion and relegation maintain a competitive balance and give priority to sporting merit, which is also a key figure of the model."
UEFA and FIFA act simultaneously as regulators and organisers of football competitions, the court recognises, but this fact does not entail, in and of itself, an infringement of EU competition law, according to the Advocate General.
"The non-recognition by FIFA and UEFA of an essentially closed competition such as the ESL could be regarded as inherent ... to maintain the principles of participation based on sporting results, equal opportunities and solidarity," the court ruling adds.
The Super League project was an intended breakaway sports competition announced by 12 of Europe's biggest football clubs, including FC Barcelona, in April 2021.
Its aim was to set up a new competition that would effectively replace the Champions League, organized by UEFA, and many commentators believe it would destroy the foundations of domestic club football in the continent as well.
Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Juventus are the only three clubs left affiliated with the Super League project after English clubs and other Spanish and Italian sides renounced the breakaway competition following massive backlash from fans.
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, La Liga’s released a strong statement criticizing the plan as “a selfish, egotistical proposal designed to further enrich the already super rich.”
“This destruction of the European football ecosystem will also ultimately cause the failure of this new competition and its participating clubs, which have built their success based on the achievement of sports titles and triumphs, which will now be more limited,” it continued.
Days after its launch, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, the Catalan coach who formerly managed Barcelona, strongly criticized the project that his own club was also a part of. The coach said that “it is not a sport where the relation between effort and success or reward does not exist,” alluding to the closed-off nature of the Super League.