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CJEU issues judgment in Super League case
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21 Dec 2023 / sports law Print

CJEU issues judgment in Super League case

The EU’s highest court has ruled that rules laid down by football’s governing bodies that require any new club competition to be approved by them are unlawful.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) also found that 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 stressed, however, that it was not ruling on the proposed Super League project, and that its judgment did not mean that the plan should necessarily be approved.

The case had been referred to the court by the Commercial Court in Madrid, where the European Superleague Company had taken legal proceedings against FIFA and UEFA.

A total of 12 European clubs announced their intention to form a Super League in 2021, though most later withdrew from the project after opposition from supporters and governments.

‘Economic activities’

The CJEU judges said that the organisation of inter-club football competitions and the exploitation of their media rights were “quite evidently, economic activities”.

The judges added that, as a result, they had to comply with EU competition rules and respect the freedom of movement, even though the economic pursuit of sport had certain specific characteristics, such as the existence of associations having certain regulatory and control powers and the power to impose sanctions.

The court ruled that the power to determine the conditions under which potentially competing undertakings might enter the market “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”.

The judges found, however, that the powers of FIFA and UEFA were not subject to any such criteria, and that the governing bodies were, therefore, abusing a dominant position.

Media rights

They described their rules on approval, control, and sanctions as “unjustified restrictions on the freedom to provide services”.

The court also found that FIFA and UEFA rules on the exploitation of media rights were harmful to European football clubs, all companies operating in media markets and, ultimately, consumers and television viewers, “by preventing them from enjoying new and potentially innovative or interesting competitions”.

It added, however, that it was up to the court in Madrid to decide whether those rules might nevertheless benefit different stakeholders in football, “for example, by ensuring a solidarity-like redistribution of the profits generated by those rights”.

UEFA 'confident'

In a statement, UEFA said that the ruling did not signify an endorsement or validation of the Super League plan.

“It, rather, underscores a pre-existing shortfall within UEFA's pre-authorisation framework, a technical aspect that has already been acknowledged and addressed in June 2022.

“UEFA is confident in the robustness of its new rules, and specifically that they comply with all relevant European laws and regulations,” it added.

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