FIFA and UEFA Rules v. EU Law: Analysis in the Context of the European Super League Decision

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Uçar Hukuk & Danışmanlık Bürosu

Uçar Hukuk & Danışmanlık Bürosu

The decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”)  regarding the European Super League, which has a lot of repercussions  today,  is actually the story of a struggle that has been going on not only today but also for years. There have been years of effort associated with the European Super Leuage project, which aims to diversify European football by creating a new league and the struggle dates back to. After several unsuccessful attempts, with the CJEU decision of 21 December 2023, the  court ruled that The Union of International Football Associations (“FIFA”) and the Union of European Football Associations (“UEFA”)’s rules on the pre-approval of new inter-club football competitions and the control of media rights were contrary to the principles of EU competition law and freedom to provide services, paving the way for the European Super League. Before going into the details of the subject, it is needed to explain some issues regarding the formation of the European Super League.

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE EUROPEAN SUPER LEAGUE

The European Super League is a new football competition that was planned to be created in 2021 with the participation of the 15 biggest football clubs in Europe. The project is designed as an alternative to UEFA’s Champions League. This project was planned with the effect of the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to football clubs and was established to compensate for this damage. The founding clubs of the European Super League are: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur from England; Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid from Spain; From Italy, it will consist of AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus, and these clubs have been determined as the permanent clubs of the tournament. It has been decided that the remaining 3 clubs will be selected differently each year. Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München refused to participate in the tournament, stating that they were satisfied with the current format of the UEFA Champions League and that the European Super League would harm the competitiveness of football.

The European Super League has created a great deal of controversy in 2021, with claims that the tournament will disrupt the current order of football and reduce the interest of fans. FIFA and UEFA also opposed the tournament and threatened to ban the participating clubs from their leagues, and as a result of these pressures, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United, Atlético Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan, which are the founding clubs of the European Super League, announced their withdrawal from the tournament, and Juventus announced to the public that the  withdrawal process from the tournament was initiated in a press release dated June 6, 2023.

Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid, who are behind the project, have continued their fight to re-establish the tournament, claiming that UEFA and FIFA violated the law on competition and free movement by using their monopoly position. On May 27, 2021, the Madrid Commercial Court requested a preliminary decision from the CJEU to determine whether UEFA and FIFA violated competition laws, and the CJEU ruled in 2023 that UEFA and FIFA violated European Union competition laws and did not have the authority to prevent the establishment of the European Super League

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE EUROPEAN SUPER LEAGUE FORMAT AND THE CURRENT UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FORMAT

While there are 32 teams in the UEFA Champions League, the European Super League is planned to be played with the participation of 64 men’s and 32 women’s teams every year by dividing the teams into three leagues as star, gold and blue, and accordingly, it is aimed to provide more diversity and competition to the tournament. 

Again, in the UEFA Champions League, there are two stages, the group stage and the knockout stage, while the European Super League will include the group stage, the league stage and the knockout stage, which will cause the tournament to last longer. The fact that the tournament includes more matches has brought criticism from fans and club presidents that it will reduce the interest of the audience.

Since the European Super League is intended to be a tournament in which only rich and successful teams will take part every year, this has led to concerns that the tournament will weaken competitiveness and at the same time make football elitist and less accessible. 

THE EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE’S DECISION ON THE EUROPEAN SUPER LEAGUE

 FIFA and UEFA, as associations subject to special law rules based in Switzerland, aim to promote and regulate world and European football. However, the rules of these organizations regarding the approval of inter-club football competitions and media rights raise questions about their compliance with European Union law, and in this context, the Super League project of 12 European football clubs represented by the European Superleague Company has caused FIFA and UEFA to oppose it and led to the start of a legal process.

FIFA and UEFA have opposed the Super League project and threatened to impose sanctions on participating clubs and players. However, Spain’s Commercial Court of Madrid has doubts about the inconsistency of these objections with EU law. In particular, the fact that FIFA and UEFA have a monopolistic dominance in this market has led to the emergence of various questions in court.

CJEU, in its decision on December 21, 2023, ruled that UEFA and FIFA violated competition law by preventing the establishment of the European Super League, and pointed out that the rules of UEFA and FIFA, which require prior permission from them to organize new football tournaments, are contrary to the basic principles of competition law, and stated that these rules restrict competition and violate the right of consumers to free choice. Indeed, the rules of UEFA and FIFA prevent the establishment of new football tournaments and thus restrict competition. This can lead to viewers taking advantage of fewer options.

The Court emphasized that the organization of inter-club football competitions and the exercise of media rights are economic activities, and therefore these activities should respect the rules of competition and freedom. He stressed that if FIFA and UEFA have the power to determine the conditions of market access, it should be subject to criteria to ensure that this power is transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate, but determined that FIFA and UEFA do not have these criteria, and therefore considered this as an abuse of the dominant position of FIFA and UEFA.

The court’s decision states that FIFA and UEFA’s rules on approvals, controls and sanctions cause unjustified restrictions on the freedom to provide services. More generally, the Court has made an assessment of the conformity of FIFA and UEFA rules with EU law, and this decision does not mean that the Super League project is automatically approved.

You  can find the summary of the application in the Official Journal  of the European Union and the reasons for the application on the website of the European Court of Justice.

For detailed information on the subject, you can contact us here.

You can get detailed information about our office’s work in the field of Sports Law from our website.

Stj. Av. Selen ÖNEY

Uçar Law & Consultancy Office

Diclaimer:

This article is prepared by Uçar Law & Consultancy Office for information purposes only, and the information and visual materials contained in it cannot be used, reproduced, published, transmitted to a third party or translated without prior written permission from us. This legal memorandum is not a comment or legal opinion and was prepared on the publication date and our attorney’s office is not responsible for its failure to
update continuously.”

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