KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- UEFA and FIFA have been given a bloody nose by the European Court of Justice in its verdict on the European Super League case. The court decided that both the European and world governing bodies misused their monopolistic powers in banning the ESL but it did not approve the controversial proposal either.

A significant complication in assessing the verdict is that both UEFA and A22, the company behind the Super League, have moved forward ever since the initial revelations in April 2021 which infuriated many politicians, fans and establishment directors and officials.

UEFA has had legal experts hard at work on how best to reframe statutes, rules and regulations while A22 has scrapped its original 12-club closed competition in favour of a 64-club midweek tournament incorporating some form of promotion and relegation.

Finally, the European Court verdict is not the end of the matter. The ECJ became involved only because a Madrid commercial court applied for clarification on whether UEFA’s claim for monopolistic control of international club events contravened the European Union’s competition regulations.

Fronting up on either side in the row have been Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and UEFA supremo Aleksander Ceferin who was supported in a media conference by Nasser Al-Khelaifi, president of the European Club Association, as well as representatives of fans, FIFPRO and the European Leagues.

Previous judgments had approved an international federation’s a right to act also as competition organiser as long as that right were exercised in a transparent and fair manner. Today’s European Court verdict stated bluntly that UEFA (and FIFA) regulations – as they were in 2021 – did not comply.

A judgment summary said:

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.

There is no framework for the FIFA and UEFA rules ensuring that they are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate.

Similarly, 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 reference challenging UEFA’s commercial exploitation of competition rights is the one most likely to bring its directors out in a cold sweat. For three decades the European federation has owed its untold wealth to its exclusive broadcasting and sponsorship deals.

The 12 clubs involved in the original abortive launch in 2021 of the Super League were Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Internazionale, Juventus, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham.

UEFA threatened swingeing sanctions and all but Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus withdrew from the project in response to fan fury while Juventus pulled out later after the board led by then-president Andrea Agnelli was forced to quit. However UEFA was forced to backtrack on disciplinary action by the Madrid court which then sought European Court guidance.

Ceferin, in his media conference, insisted defiantly that UEFA has updated all its rules and regulations over the past two years. He said the court summary did not reflect the full judgment, that UEFA’s recent rule changes met the court’s objections and that UEFA would maintain its course and its own competitions unaffected.

Ceferin added: “The press release issued by the ECJ does not fully reflect the court’s findings. We are confident the new rules are fully in line with the ECJ judgment.

“We will not try to stop the so-called Super League. They can create whatever they want. I hope they start their fantastic competition as soon as possible with two clubs. I hope they know what they are doing – which I am not so sure. Football is not for sale. Absolutely nothing can change that.”

A UEFA statement said: “UEFA remains resolute in its commitment to uphold the European football pyramid, ensuring that it continues to serve the broader interests of society. We will continue to shape the European sports model collectively with national associations, leagues, clubs, fans, players, coaches, EU institutions, governments and partners alike.

“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.”

Many of Europe’s major clubs and supporters’ organisations reiterated their loyalty to the UEFA establishment.

However Real Madrid president Perez, in complete contrast, described the ECJ judgment as “a great day for the history of football and for the history of sports.”

He added: “In the coming days we will carefully study the scope of this resolution, but I do anticipate two conclusions of great historical significance. Firstly, that European club football is not and will never again be a monopoly. And secondly, that from today the clubs will be the masters of their destiny.”

As mentioned, Super League promoter A22 has revised its original proposal for men’s and women’s European competitions. The new version is a league system with 64 men’s clubs across three divisions, with participation based on sporting merit and no permanent members. A women’s competition would feature 32 clubs across two leagues.

While European football awaits a definitive ruling next year from the Madrid commercial court, UEFA might be wise to take note of the warning shot fired across its bows of corporate self-confidence.

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