EU top court: FIFA, UEFA defied competition law in blocking Super League
BRUSSELS — European soccer was rocked by a court ruling that revived the rebel Super League on Thursday, though it wasn't clear whether any clubs were joining Real Madrid and Barcelona in the breakaway project.
The European Union’s top court said UEFA and FIFA acted unlawfully to block Super League. The ruling was praised by Madrid which, along with Barcelona, is leading the fight to form a rival competition to the Champions League.
“A Europe of freedoms has triumphed, and also football and its fans have triumphed,” Madrid president Florentino Pérez said.
The original project in April 2021 sparked vehement protests by fans across Europe, chiefly in England, that helped to scuttle Super League within 48 hours, and no new clubs immediately came forward on Thursday to support Perez’s vision.
Indeed, many big clubs — including Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain — and supporters' groups repeated their staunch opposition to Super League, whatever its shape.
"The world of football moved on from the Super League years ago and progressive reforms will continue,” said the European Club Association which represents Europe’s top football clubs. “All the recognized stakeholders of European and world football — spanning confederations, federations, clubs, leagues, players and fans — stand more united than ever against the attempts by a few individuals pursing personal agendas to undermine the very foundations and basic principles of European football.”
The case was heard last year at the European Court of Justice after Super League failed at launch more than two years ago. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin called the club leaders then “snakes” and “liars."
The company formed by 12 clubs — now led by only Real Madrid and Barcelona after Juventus withdrew this year — started legal action and the court was asked to rule on points of EU law by a Madrid tribunal.
Madrid-based A22 Sports Management, which promotes the Super League, immediately announced new proposed competitions for men and women, saying young fans are “turning away” from soccer.
"I hope they start their fantastic competition as soon as possible with two clubs,” Ceferin reacted sarcastically.
In a presentation streamed on YouTube, A22 CEO Bernd Reichart said there would be no permanent members of the new competition and they would remain committed to their domestic leagues.
The rebel clubs had accused UEFA of breaching European law by allegedly abusing its market dominance of soccer competitions, and they were backed by the court.
“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,” the court said. “There is no framework for the FIFA and UEFA rules ensuring that they are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate.”
The court acknowledged FIFA and UEFA were abusing a dominant position and their rules on approval, control and sanctions “must be held to be unjustified restrictions on the freedom to provide services.”
Madrid’s Perez welcomed the court ruling: “It has been fully recognized that the clubs have the right to propose and promote European competitions that modernize our sport and attract fans from all over the world.”
But while clearing the way for Super League, the court also said it “does not mean that a competition such as the Super League project must necessarily be approved.”
Ceferin said he was confident the amendments to rules on approval, control and sanctions adopted by UEFA last year were fully in line with the judgment.
“The judgment is actually positive as it embraces the key features of the European football pyramid, open competitions, sporting merit and solidarity,” he said.
Two years after the original idea collapsed, Super League promoters presented in February a new proposal for a multi-division competition involving up to 80 European soccer teams and operating outside of UEFA’s authority. The latest plans announced on Thursday would involve 64 men's teams and 32 women's clubs.
English clubs are still unlikely to join a revived plan. The Premier League’s international appeal and financial power has grown in the past two years, and a U.K. government bill announced last month by King Charles proposed powers to block English teams from trying to join a breakaway league.
The Premier League Owners’ Charter states clubs “will not engage in the creation of new competition formats outside of the Premier League’s rules.”
The Spanish league said “the Super League is a selfish and elitist model. Anything that is not fully open, with direct access only through the domestic leagues, season by season, is a closed format.”
The court also noted that rules giving FIFA and UEFA exclusive control over the commercial exploitation of the media rights related to their competitions are “such as to be 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.”
Reichart of A22 said they will offer to fans “free viewing of all Super League matches,” and sent a message to clubs that “revenues and solidarity spending will be guaranteed” in Super League.
Football Supporters Europe said on Thursday there was “no place in European football for a breakaway super league.”
“Our clubs, our competitions, & our local communities need protection,” it said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “Whatever comes next, the super league remains an ill-conceived project that endangers the future of European football.”
The Court of Justice's ruling was the most anticipated sports decision since the so-called Bosman Ruling in 1995. That case upended soccer’s transfer system and drove up players' pay.
When Super League was unveiled — a largely closed competition as an alternative to the UEFA-run Champions League — widespread condemnation hit the rebel clubs from England, Spain and Italy.
UEFA's defense was that it protected the place of sports in European society by running competitions in a pyramid structure open to all, and funded the grassroots of the game. This season, the Champions League included Royal Antwerp, which won its first Belgian title for 66 years, and Union Berlin, which rose into the German top division only in 2019.
The proposed 20-team Super League with locked-in places for up to 15 founders would have effectively replaced the Champions League and weakened the sporting and commercial appeal of domestic leagues.
The lack of relegation was fundamentally at odds with European soccer which, unlike elite U.S. sports leagues, has the risk and reward of moving up or down divisions based on performance.
“UEFA remains resolute in its commitment to uphold the European football pyramid, ensuring that it continues to serve the broader interests of society,” UEFA said. “We trust that the solidarity-based European football pyramid that the fans and all stakeholders have declared as their irreplaceable model will be safeguarded against the threat of breakaways by European and national laws.”
AP writers James Robson contributed from Manchester, Tales Azzoni from Madrid, Joe Wilson from Barcelona, Jerome Pugmire from Paris, Ciaran Fahey from Berlin, and Graham Dunbar from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer