EU legal adviser stands by UEFA and FIFA in Super League case

The Super League was hit when an EU legal adviser suggested that the European Court of Justice should support UEFA and FIFA in curbing separatist competition.

Prosecutor General Athanasios Rantos suggested on Thursday that the court accept that FIFA-UEFA rules, which the Super League must subject to prior approval, are in line with European Union competition law.

Rantos said that while the organizers have the right to set up an independent competition outside of UEFA and FIFA, they cannot continue to play in events approved by UEFA and FIFA without their approval.

Lawyers routinely provide legal guidance to the CJEU. Their opinions are not binding on the Luxembourg-based court, but in most cases they are followed.

The case went to court in July after the Super League failed to launch in April 2021. But now the company, which was founded by 12 rebel clubs led by Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, has taken legal action and the Court of Justice has been asked to rule. In EU law points by a Madrid court.

The clubs accused UEFA of violating European laws for allegedly abusing market dominance in football competitions.

UEFA’s defense was to protect the sport’s special place in European society by organizing competitions in a pyramid structure open to all and to finance the base of the game.

Rantos acknowledged that UEFA and FIFA may restrict competitors’ access to the European football competition organizing market. However, he insisted that “such a fact, if established, does not mean that these rules clearly have the purpose of restricting competition”.

UEFA welcomed the view “warmly”, saying it was “an encouraging step towards preserving the current dynamic and democratic governance structure of the European football pyramid”.

FIFA was pleased that Rantos felt sanctioned and granted exclusive marketing rights.

UEFA said Rantos’ view strengthens the federations’ role to “support the fundamental principles of protecting sport, merit in sport and open access among our members, and uniting football with shared responsibility and solidarity”.

European Football Fans, a group recognized by UEFA as a stakeholder, said the view reflected the views of fans across the continent.

“Giving more money and power to a few people would be disastrous to enrich a handful of clubs at the expense of all other levels of the game,” the group said. “It also destroys important principles such as sporting merit, promotion and relegation, European qualifying through local success, and financial solidarity.”

The European Club Association, which represents Europe’s top football clubs, was also pleased with Rantos’ view, saying it was “a clear rejection of the efforts of the few to undermine the foundations of European football, and for many its historical legacy”.

Last year, rebel clubs in England, Spain and Italy came under widespread condemnation when they announced their plans for a largely closed competition as an alternative to the UEFA-run Champions League. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has described club leaders as “snakes” and “liars” and threatened to ban players from Super League clubs.

The Attorney General also said the court must state that EU competition rules do not prohibit FIFA, UEFA, its member federations or national leagues “from threatening sanctions against federations when clubs affiliated with these federations participate in a project to establish an federation”. A new competition that risks undermining the goals legitimately pursued by the federations of which they are members.”

A final decision is expected next year. This is the court’s most anticipated sports decision since the so-called Bosman Decision of 1995. The lawsuit upset football’s transfer system, boosted the salaries of top players, and ultimately accelerated the wealth and rivalry divide between the wealthy clubs and the rest.

The court’s view was also a win for the governing bodies of Olympic sports, whose annual incomes may be less than the individual salaries of many European football players and which are vulnerable to commercial competitors.

When the Super League kicked off in April 2021, IOC president Thomas Bach spoke at UEFA’s annual meeting, warning of the threat posed by “the purely profit-oriented goals of commercial sports providers and investors”.

Rantos on Thursday, in a separate opinion on a long-standing legal antitrust dispute between two Dutch speed skaters and the European Commission won against the International Skating Union, recommended that the case be reconsidered.

The EU general court ruled two years ago that rules by the ISU that sanction athletes participating in events not recognized by the governing body violated EU competition law.

“The fact that the same organization performs both the regulatory and regulatory functions of sporting events does not in itself entail a violation of EU competition law,” said Rantos.

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