European Court of Justice set to deliver verdict in Super League case

By Sports Desk December 20, 2023

A decision in the European Super League case, which could shape the future of continental club football for decades to come, is set to be delivered on Thursday.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice must decide whether UEFA and FIFA acted against competition law by blocking the formation of the European Super League in 2021 and then seeking to sanction the clubs involved.

A non-binding decision delivered by the Advocate General in the case last December found rules allowing UEFA to have prior approval of new competitions were compatible with EU law.

The original 2021 Super League proposal was criticised for its ‘closed’ format, with 15 founder clubs set to have been immune from relegation.

A22, a company formed to assist in the creation of that competition, has now drafted revised plans for a multi-division event featuring 60 to 80 teams, which it insists, crucially, will be open to all.

The company will hope that the judgement forces sports federations like UEFA to use non-discriminatory criteria when assessing new entrants to the market, which would open the door for A22 to try again.

“Tomorrow is UEFA Judgment Day,” an A22 post published on X on Wednesday read.

“After almost 70 years as the sole regulator, gatekeeper and dominant commercial operator of the European football market, UEFA’s monopoly may finally end! We are on the threshold of a new, better era for #EuropeanClubFootball.”

There are many obstacles in A22’s path even if the judgement suggests it does have the right to pitch a new competition to UEFA that can operate under UEFA’s auspices, and for UEFA to give that competition full and fair consideration.

Crucially, is there a will from any club outside of original architects Real Madrid and Barcelona to be involved?

In September, the European Club Association, which features 500 clubs either as members or within its network, signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding with UEFA which runs until July 2030.

Within the MoU is an undertaking that the ECA “ensure that none of its member clubs participate in any competition that is not organised or recognised by UEFA or FIFA”.

A22’s claim that UEFA is the dominant commercial operator is at least challenged by the existence of the Joint Venture between UEFA and ECA which oversees all marketing and commercial matters related to the Champions League and UEFA’s other club competitions. Each organisation has seven members on the JV’s board.

In England, the Premier League has just announced a new domestic television rights deal worth £6.7billion. If there is any risk that the competition A22 proposes that could kill or even harm that golden goose, it is difficult to picture any English club supporting it.

Clubs are also set to be forbidden from joining unapproved competitions as a licensing condition to be set by the English game’s new independent regulator, while the Premier League’s Owners’ Charter agreed in 2022 also contains undertakings not to “engage in the creation of new competition formats outside of the Premier League’s rules”.

In France, it has been reported that an investment into the domestic game from CVC contains a compensation clause should a French club participate in any Super League, while German club ownership structures provide a major obstacle.

That is all before considering another crucial element – the fans.

Supporters in England took to the streets despite coronavirus restrictions when the initial Super League plans became known, and played a key part in its collapse.

Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund fans have also expressed strong opposition in the past.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a member of Bayern’s supervisory board and a former ECA chairman, issued some scathing comments about Super League in an interview with Italian news outlet Gazzetta dello Sport on Wednesday.

Asked what would happen if the ECJ authorised the Super League in its entirety, Rummenigge said: “It wouldn’t go far. Thirty years ago the system would have embraced novelty, now it is different.

“The English, Germans and French would never participate. I also believe the Italians and the Spanish (would not), unless there is some president who thinks of going to bed and waking up the next day covered by gold.”

The Grand Chamber judgement’s interpretation of EU law will be passed back to a Madrid commercial court to make a decision, after the Spanish jurisdiction made the referral in 2021.

That court also placed an injunction on sanctions UEFA imposed on the nine clubs who joined Super League but who later withdrew. It remains to be seen whether UEFA will press on with those sanctions, and potentially investigate more serious charges against Real and Barcelona.

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