European Super League: Questions and answers after EU court ruling on ‘unlawful’ UEFA and FIFA veto

Everything you need to know about the momentous ruling that could change the face of European soccer and sport in general

European Super League
Barcelona's Frenkie de Jong and Porto's Alan Varela during a Champions League group stage match.Siu Wu (EFE)
Ladislao J. Moñino

The ruling issued Thursday by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the Super League proposal concluded that both FIFA and UEFA abused their dominant position and therefore violated the rules of competition and free market in the bloc by vetoing the creation of a breakaway league. “There is no framework for the FIFA and UEFA rules ensuring that they are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate,” the CEU said. The ruling may now open a new horizon that may favor a change in the classic structures of European soccer and sport in general as they have been known until now.

What is the Super League?

The European Superleague Company was founded in March 2021 with the participation of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Juventus, Inter Milan, and AC Milan. These 12 clubs initially announced a closed competition, outside of UEFA’s remit and in which the founding clubs were guaranteed the right to participate permanently.

Why did it not happen?

The locked-in nature of the competition generated a strong backlash from fans, predominantly in England, where thousands took to the streets in protest against a competition that did not take sporting merit into account. The revolt among British fans caused their clubs to be the first to withdraw, the Premier League signatories announcing just 24 hours after its creation that they would not participate in the Super League. Later, Atlético Madrid, Inter and Milan also withdrew from the project, leaving only Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus. Threats of sanctions by UEFA also served as a deterrent to dissident clubs.

What does the CJEU ruling say and why is it important?

The CJEU judgment is clear that FIFA and UEFA exercised abuse of a dominant position by vetoing the Super League. The significance of this conclusion is that it may put an end to the monopoly of both entities as exclusive organizers of international soccer competitions. These, according to the court, retain the ability to authorize new competitions within their system, but must do so with objective criteria that they lacked when they sought to curb the Super League and sanction its participants. Outside the UEFA and FIFA system, all kinds of competitions can be created. For their part, the clubs, should the Super League go ahead, would be the owners of the tournament without the need to share revenues generated with FIFA and UEFA.

Does the ruling now authorize the creation of the European Super League?

It does not necessarily authorize it, but it does establish a global framework that redefines relations with the various federations. UEFA states that the ruling does not signify an endorsement or validation of the so-called Super League; rather, it highlights a historical deficit within UEFA’s prior authorization framework, which must meet the criteria of transparency, objectivity, proportionality, and inclusivity. UEFA published an authorization protocol in June 2022, but for the Super League this regulation is contrary to the criteria cited by the CJEU. According to the European court, it will be up to the Madrid commercial court judge who raised the issues to decide whether UEFA’s prior authorization criteria are valid. His decision will be the one that will give the green light (or not) to the formation of the Super League.

Can the players or clubs involved in the Super League now be sanctioned?

The heading of the note issued by the CJEU is emphatic. “The FIFA and UEFA rules making any new interclub football project subject to their prior approval, such as the Super League, and prohibiting clubs and players from playing in those competitions, are unlawful.” However, UEFA incorporated the authorization criteria in 2022 and it was submitted to the European Commission. UEFA President Alexander Ceferin responded to the question of whether he could sanction players participating in the Super League: “I think we could, but we don’t want to.”

Will the Champions League as we know it continue to exist?

This is the last edition of the Champions League to be played under the current format of 32 teams divided into eight groups with the top two clubs advancing to the knockout rounds. To counter the hypothetical birth of the Super League, and to satisfy the clubs’ demands on UEFA to increase the revenues they derive from the competition, the new format increases the number of participants to 36. These will be divided into four blocks of nine teams each according to their UEFA coefficient. The teams will play eight matches each, four at home and four away, against two opponents from each group. The eight teams with the most points will advance directly to the round of 16, while the teams ranked between 9th and 24th will be paired for a preliminary play-off for a place in the round of 16.

Is the Super League viable with the new format presented?

The success of the new Super League format with three divisions, without permanent members, will depend on the clubs that sign up for it. The bulk of the big European clubs, except for Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus, are currently aligned with UEFA through the European Club Association (ECA). In September, they signed an agreement until 2030 that a priori guarantees them more income. It remains to be seen whether in the medium-term the economic package offered by the Super League will attract the big European clubs. So far, no club has publicly confirmed that it will join the project led by Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus, and the vast majority of players have expressed their rejection of the creation of a Super League.

How could the ruling change the order and structures of soccer?

FIFA and UEFA are not going to disappear, but the latter in particular could be severely weakened. If the Super League were to go ahead, UEFA would be the most-affected federation because its revenue derives largely from the club competitions it organizes. It would only be left with the European Championship, an international tournament held every four years, as a significant source of income. That reduction in revenue would also affect the amounts received by the national federations from UEFA.

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