Football Super League squabble arrives at the European Parliament

In April, twelve of the world’s biggest football clubs revealed the plan to start a new midweek international competition, the European Super League (ESL). The global uproar caused by the announcement and the threat of penalties from UEFA led nine of the initial 12 founders to withdraw from the project. [EPA/RAIN]

Promoters of the controversial Super League football tournament have sent a letter to EU lawmakers ahead of this week’s vote in the European Parliament on a sports-related report, attacking what they said was the monopoly of Europe’s “self-established” football governing body UEFA.

European lawmakers are set to vote at a plenary in Strasbourg on the first-ever report on EU sports policy, drafted by the Polish Christian-democrat MEP Tomasz Frankowski, a member of the Parliament’s culture committee and also a  former professional football player.

The non-binding resolution takes a strong stance against “breakaway competitions” like the European Super League as they undermine “the principles of solidarity, sustainability, inclusiveness for all, open competition, sporting merit and fairness.”

Frankowski’s explanatory statements attached to the report read also that “the forces that threaten the European dimension in sport and seek to undermine its features only stand to benefit. The European Super League was a prime example of this.”

In April, twelve of the world’s biggest football clubs revealed the plan to start a new midweek international competition, the European Super League (ESL), to compete with the existing Champions League tournament, organised by UEFA.

The breakaway move, motivated by decreasing audiences and the economic potential of such an operation, was immediately condemned by UEFA, which threatened to ban the Super League rebels from all other competitions.

The global uproar caused by the announcement and the threat of penalties led nine of the initial 12 founders to withdraw from the project, which is still kept alive by Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus.

A Madrid court has called into play the European Court of Justice, asking it to rule whether UEFA is able to impose penalties on clubs who remain part of the breakaway competition.

Ahead of the Parliament’s vote, the promoters of the Super League sent a letter to MEP – seen by EURACTIV – showing support to “efforts to shape an expanded policy position and engagement with sports across the European Union.”

Despite some explicit reference against the project, their promoters believe that the ESL adheres to the core principles and values listed by the MEPs in the report better than UEFA.

The letter states that the ESL promoters even agree with the opposition to the so-called breakaway league, as the splinter clubs ensured the full compatibility with the continued participation in their domestic competitions.

However, the Parliament’s resolution does not incorporate the need for all sports bodies to adhere to the legal framework of the European Union, the letter continues.

In particular, they accuse UEFA of not respecting the EU competition law. “The conflicts of interest are obvious as is the incompatibility with EU competition law,” the letter reads.

“UEFA, the self-established ‘governing body’ of European football has, in addition to its alleged regulatory role, also established itself as the monopoly operator of cross-border club football competitions,” it continues.

The European Super League organisers also complained about the fact that an organisation based outside the EU is “the only entity with the ability to approve new entrants into the very market which they dominate.”

The European Commission has so far shown support to UEFA in the controversial debate.

Since 2017, UEFA has had a representative office in Brussels, starting a close dialogue with the EU institutions in different policy areas such as promotion of physical activity and social inclusion through sport.

UEFA and the European Commission also signed a cooperation agreement back in 2014, and renewed it in 2018, to work in a tangible and constructive way on matters of shared interest.

But a precedent in the Commission case law seems to allow Super League rebels to set up their tournament without running into sanctions.

In 2015, the European Commission opened an antitrust proceeding after a complaint filed by two Dutch professional speed skaters who were imposed penalties by the International Skating Union (ISU) for having participated in a competition not authorised by the governing body.

In a decision released in 2017, the Commission ruled that these penalties were in breach of the EU Antitrust law, asking the ISU to change its rules.

“The severe penalties the International Skating Union imposes on skaters also serve to protect its own commercial interests and prevent others from setting up their own events,” Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager commented at the time.

Europe reunited against football Super League proposal

From top EU officials to European leaders, UK politicians and bosses of nationalist parties: the universal condemnation against the project of a new football tournament has reunited Europe for once.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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