European Super League hit hard in court: Explains initial decision and what’s next
The wheel turns slowly through the European Union’s Court of Justice. Six months after hearings pitting three rebel Super League clubs (Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid) against UEFA, we have an early decision that is non-binding and leaning towards UEFA and the status quo, rather than claiming that football’s European governing body abused its monopolistic control over sport.
– Super League hopes faded after the initial court decision
You can read the press release here, but let’s break down the impact the early decision will have on Super League plans and what might happen next.
Q: So what does this mean?
A: Actually, it doesn’t mean anything because it’s not the final decision. It’s an opinion put forth by the Advocate General meant to inform a decision to be made later — maybe in the spring, maybe in the summer — by the fifteen judges in the court. They will most likely reach decisions by consensus — unlike the US Supreme Court, where cases are voted on by dissent — and while they will consider the Advocate General’s guidance, they do not have to follow through.
However, according to those who follow such matters, in the majority of cases, the courts will mostly follow the Advocate General’s reasoning at least 65% of the time and the other 25%, they will reach a very similar conclusion by disparate legal arguments. Only in one case out of 10 will it appear they have sharp disagreements, which makes this a good lead as to how things might play out.
On the other hand, according to others familiar with the process, judges tend to think more independently than Advocates General, which is often in line with the current government’s institutional and political will. In short, this is heartening for UEFA, FIFA, the European Club Association and all those who support what is known as the “European Sport Model” — essentially, a pyramid structure with promotion and relegation approved by the governing bodies.
Q: So we won’t see a breakaway European Super League?
A: The case was never really about that because clubs are actually free to form their own competitions with whoever they like, whenever they like. It’s always been and it hasn’t changed. The question is whether clubs can form and run their own leagues and competitions while remaining within the current football ecosystem run by FIFA and UEFA — if you remember, this is what the European Super League is all about.
The ESL essentially wanted the competition to replace the Champions League, which they could run for the most part themselves, while still playing in their domestic competition. (Which, for the most part, is as lucrative if not more lucrative than the Champions League.) General advocates find that you can only do that with the permission of the regulatory body. In short: You either fully embrace the pyramidal structure, or you don’t.
He also found that the positions of UEFA and FIFA – whereby clubs leaving the Champions League to form their own competition face expulsion from the domestic league and other sanctions – largely adhere to EU competition law.
A: Yes, the only exception is that individual players may not be penalized if their club secedes to join a rebel Super League not approved by UEFA. FIFA has threatened to ban Super League players from competitions such as the World Cup.
Q: So what do the Super League clubs say?
A: Well, A22, the company that represents their interests, is trying to put a positive light on the Advocate General’s opinion by highlighting two nuggets. One is that UEFA bears a “special responsibility” not to “unduly deny” third party access to the market, which honestly doesn’t mean much as I see it.
The other is that any sanction imposed on a club that may take part in an illegal competition must be proportionate and clear, which if it happens again I think leaves room for other lawyers to interpret what “proportionally” means. But it’s pretty clear they see this as a setback.
It’s no coincidence that UEFA, FIFA and the European Club Association (ECA, the body representing the interests of professional clubs) all said they had a “welcome” – “warm welcome,” in UEFA’s case – opinion Thursday. You won’t find that kind of language from a Super League club in an A-22 statement.
Q: Would you like to make a prediction about what will happen when we get a definite decision?
A: Let’s just say it’s half time and the game’s governing body have a healthy 2-0 lead, but there’s still 45 minutes to go.