European football’s governing body UEFA has welcomed an opinion from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) that has dealt a blow to clubs planning to set up a European Super League (ESL).
Advocate General Athanasias Rantos said that the rules of UEFA and its global counterpart FIFA, under which any new competition needed their approval, were compatible with EU competition law.
His opinion is not binding, and the judges at the court will make a final ruling next year.
After FIFA and UEFA warned that they would expel players and clubs taking part in the proposed competition, the company behind the Super League project, European Super League Company (ELSC), took legal action against the bodies in a court in Madrid.
The court then asked the CJEU for its opinion on whether the governing bodies’ warnings complied with EU law.
‘Special nature’ of sport
“Whilst ESLC is free to set up its own independent football competition outside the UEFA and FIFA eco-system, 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,” Rantos said.
In his opinion, he cited the “special nature” of sport, adding that article 165 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) recognised a ‘European Sports Model’ that was based on the principles of a pyramid structure and open competitions.
Such competitions were accessible to all “by virtue of a transparent system, in which promotion and relegation maintain a competitive balance, and give priority to sporting merit”.
Rantos said that, while sporting activities were not excluded from the scope of EU competition law, the provisions of article 165 might be relevant in analysing any objective justification for restrictions on competition, or on fundamental freedoms.
He stated the non-recognition by FIFA and UEFA of “an essentially closed competition”, such as the ESL, could be regarded as inherent in the pursuit of certain legitimate objectives.
“The purpose of that non-recognition is to maintain the principles of participation based on sporting results, equal opportunities, and solidarity upon which the pyramid structure of European football is founded, and to combat dual-membership scenarios,” Rantos said.
UEFA described the opinion as “an encouraging step towards preserving the existing dynamic and democratic governance structure of the European football pyramid”.
The ESL originally involved 12 clubs from across Europe, but most withdrew after fierce opposition from fans and governments. Real Madrid, Juventus, and Barcelona have, however, continued to back the project.