Football bodies UEFA and FIFA will next week seek to convince Europe’s top court that they have the right to block clubs from joining a breakaway league and penalise players in a case that could break their monopoly power and lucrative media rights.
The dispute between UEFA, FIFA and the European Super League has ramifications for other sports, clubs and players eyeing lucrative deals offered by rebel bodies and hoping to cash in during relatively short careers.
Announced in April last year, the European Super League collapsed in less than 48 hours after an outcry by fans, governments and players forced Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid to pull out.
Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, however, remain holdouts. The Super League took its grievance to a Spanish court which subsequently sought guidance from the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). At issue is whether certain provisions in FIFA and UEFA’s statutes allowing them to block rival events conform with EU competition rules against companies or bodies abusing their dominance.
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The CJEU will also have to decide whether the two bodies’ threat to bar clubs and players from taking part in the Super League or ban them from taking part in national team matches is an abuse of their power. UEFA and FIFA’s media rights to competition is also another issue for the Court during the July 11-12 hearing. A ruling is expected next year or later.
UEFA has previously said that it remained confident in its position in all the relevant jurisdictions. “We are confident the European Court of Justice will properly interpret EU competition law and existing precedent,” a Super League representative said.
It is time for changes in the system, said Mark Orth at law firm MEOlaw.
“The current monopoly position of sporting federations not challenged by competition but instead fortified by exclusivity provisions, which prevents the emergence of any kind of competition, is the source of numerous detrimental developments in the sporting world,” he said.
“The question of ownership of media rights is the decisive question in every sport and decides the relationship between federation and club,” Orth said.
More than 20 European countries and the European Commission are backing UEFA and FIFA. The case is C333/21 European Superleague Company.