Europe’s top court ruled on Thursday that moves by football governing bodies UEFA and FIFA to stifle the creation of a rival Super League had broken EU law.
“The 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,” the European Court of Justice ruled.
The summary of the written judgment stressed that its ruling doesn’t necessarily mean that the Super League project should now be authorised, just that FIFA and UEFA have been “abusing a dominant position” in the football market.
A22 Sports, the company promoting the Super League project, claimed victory.
“We have won the right to compete. The UEFA monopoly is over. Football is free,” the firm’s CEO Bernd Reichart declared in a social media post from the A22 account.
UEFA has organised pan-European competitions for nearly 70 years and sees the ESL project as a significant threat to the lucrative Champions League, for which teams qualify on merit.
Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus and nine other European heavyweights announced the breakaway closed ESL in April 2021.
But the move collapsed within 48 hours after an outcry from fans, governments and players forced Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid to pull out.
Sports development company A22, which was formed to assist with creating the ESL, had claimed UEFA and global soccer governing body FIFA held a monopoly position which was in breach of the European Union’s Competition and Free Movement Law.
“We have won the right to compete. The UEFA-monopoly is over. Football is free,” said A22 CEO Bernd Reichart.
“Clubs are now free from the threat of sanction and free to determine their own futures,” Reichard added in a statement.
UEFA said the ruling did not signify an endorsement or validation of the Super League and that it had addressed a shortfall that had been highlighted in its own framework.
“UEFA is confident in the robustness of its new rules, and specifically that they comply with all relevant European laws and regulations,” it added in a statement.
FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The court’s ruling said FIFA and UEFA must “comply with the competition rules and respect the freedoms of movement”, adding that their rules on approval, control and sanctions amounted to “unjustified restrictions on the freedom to provide services”.
“That does not mean that a competition such as the Super League project must necessarily be approved. The Court, having been asked generally about the FIFA and UEFA rules, does not rule on that specific project in its judgment,” it concluded.
After the collapse of the ESL plan, just three clubs were left as holdouts, but Juve opted to pull out earlier this year after its former chairman Andrea Agnelli, one of the figures behind the project, and its board resigned in November 2022.
Real and Barca still hoped to go ahead with the competition and the ESL took its case to a Spanish court, which subsequently sought guidance from the Luxembourg-based European Court.
Its ruling will now considered by the Spanish court, where a judge can apply its responses to facts of the case.
Spain’s LaLiga said: “Today, more than ever, we reiterate that the ‘Super League’ is a selfish and elitist model.”
Belgian soccer club Royal Antwerp had also challenged UEFA’s rules on homegrown players, which the court said could be contrary to EU law.
Thursday’s court ruling also came as the International Skating Union lost its bid to overturn an EU antitrust order that it stop penalising speed skaters for taking part in new money-spinning events.