Super League, European court says ‘UEFA and FIFA cannot ban new competitions’


AGI – FIFA and UEFA rules that make any new inter-club football project subject to their prior approval, such as the Super League, and ban clubs and players from playing in such competitions are illegal. There is no framework for FIFA and UEFA rules to ensure that they are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate.

Likewise, rules that give FIFA and UEFA exclusive control over the commercial exploitation of rights relating to these competitions are likely to restrict competition given their importance to media, consumers and television viewers in the European Union. This is what the Court of Justice of the European Union decided when deciding on the European Superleague Company’s appeal against FIFA and UEFA, which opposed the project of creating a new Super League football competition made up of twelve European football teams. FIFA and UEFA have threatened to impose sanctions on clubs and players who choose to participate.

The Court of Justice states in its decision that the organization of inter-club football competitions and the use of media rights are quite obviously economic activities. They must therefore respect the rules of competition and respect freedom of movement, even if the economic operation of sports has some specific features, such as the existence of associations that have certain regulatory and control powers and the power to impose sanctions.

The Court also states that, parallel to these powers, FIFA and UEFA themselves organize football competitions. Furthermore, the Court considers that where an undertaking in a dominant position has the power to determine the conditions under which potentially competing undertakings may enter the market, that power must be subject to appropriate criteria, taking into account the risk of a conflict of interest which this entails, so that ensured that they are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate. However, the powers of FIFA and UEFA are not subject to these criteria. FIFA and UEFA are therefore abusing their dominant position.

And yet, given their arbitrary nature, their rules on approval, monitoring and sanctions must be seen as unjustified restrictions on the freedom to provide services. This does not mean that a competition such as the Super League project must necessarily be approved. The court, which was asked about FIFA and UEFA rules in general, does not comment on this particular project in its decision.

At the same time, the Court states that FIFA and UEFA’s rules on the use of media rights are of such a nature that they harm European football clubs, all companies operating in the media markets and, ultimately, consumers and television viewers by preventing them from enjoying new and potentially innovative or interesting competitions. However, it is up to the Commercial Court in Madrid (the seat of the appeal) to determine whether such rules could continue to benefit the various stakeholders in football, for example by ensuring a joint redistribution of the profits generated by these rights.

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