Super League clubs take on UEFA in football’s big legal game

GENEVA — A group of top-flight football clubs take on Champions League hosts UEFA on Monday in a legal match that risks the biggest upheaval in European football for more than 25 years.

The Super League project failed at launch 15 months ago, but the company formed by the 12 rebel clubs – now led by Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus – took a case to the Union’s Court of Justice European in Luxembourg.

Judges from 15 of the 27 EU member states will hear arguments over two days with a majority of those national governments backing UEFA.

The clubs will accuse UEFA of alleged abuses of market dominance with the control of football competitions which breach European law.

UEFA’s defense is that it protects the special place of sport in European society by organizing competitions in a pyramid structure open to all and by financing the grassroots of football.

A decision is unlikely this year and will not affect Super League clubs taking part in UEFA competitions from September. Ten are in Champions League groups with Manchester United and Arsenal in the second-tier Europa League.

This is the most awaited sporting decision of the Luxembourg court since the Bosman judgment in 1995.

This case upended football’s transfer system, increased the salaries of top players and ultimately accelerated a rift in wealth and competition between wealthy clubs and others.

Now some of those same clubs that have generated revenue and global brands playing in the Champions League want to be free from UEFA’s control to run their own competition as an American sports league.

Since the 1990s, European football clubs have used breakup threats as leverage over UEFA to force through changes to the Champions League.

This strategy has secured more entries (currently four guaranteed places for England, Spain, Italy and Germany), weighted prize money for them, additional matches from 2024 and more votes in the supervision of UEFA competitions.

Those winnings weren’t enough to stop 12 clubs from kicking off the European Super League around midnight on a Sunday in April 2021. Basically, the six English, three Italian and three Spanish clubs couldn’t convince Germans Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund or Paris Saint, supported by Qatar. -Germain to join their rebellion.

He broke the European Club Association’s working agreement with UEFA, as well as UEFA’s legal statute which prohibits “prohibited groupings” of clubs in unauthorized competition.

The Super League was to be a 20-team, one-season competition ‘as soon as possible’ to rival the Champions League. He would play midweek with 15 teams gaining permanent founders status and another five accepted year after year.

The project was backed by JP Morgan bank with an initial amount of 4 billion euros ($4.08 billion). The Champions League currently shares an annual prize pool of 2 billion euros ($2.04 billion) among 32 clubs.

The rebel 12 blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for economic instability and said they would create more high-quality matches to support themselves and the “global football pyramid” financially.

In hindsight, a better plan would have been a multi-divisional competition open to clubs from more countries with promotion and relegation between tiers. A revised proposal will likely be available soon.

The initial plan collapsed within two days when English clubs pulled out amid backlash from fans and threats of government legislation. They are quickly joined by Atlético Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

The feverish 48 hours from April 18-20 last year also took place during the annual meeting of UEFA’s 55 member federations, which was held in Montreux, Switzerland.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin denounced “snakes” and “liars” and wanted any club that did not give up the Super League to be expelled from UEFA competitions “as soon as possible”.

But the Spanish company Super League obtained an interim decision from Commercial Court No. 17 in Madrid. A judge has blocked UEFA’s disciplinary action and asked the European court to interpret whether UEFA breached EU competition law articles.

UEFA tried to remove the judge, Manuel Ruíz de Lara, alleging “manifest bias” and challenged the jurisdiction of his court.

However, the Madrid court ensured that UEFA would be in Luxembourg, after Real Madrid won the Champions League, and UEFA’s settlement agreements with the nine repentant clubs could not be finalized.

The Court of Justice of the European Union receives referrals from national courts to ensure consistent application of EU law.

The potential consequences of the case mean it will be heard by the Grand Chamber – a full bench of 15 judges.

After the court set an October deadline for written submissions, 16 national governments intervened in support of the so-called ‘European sports model’.

About 20 governments are expected to appear in court on Monday afternoon. A day-long session on Tuesday deals with questions from the judges to the parties.

The court is soon into summer recess and its next word on the case is expected in September at the earliest. The court’s general counsel will issue a non-binding opinion which indicates the judges’ thinking but is not conclusive.

A binding judgment will take several more months.

The Luxembourg result is eagerly awaited in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the International Olympic Committee has been a longtime lobbyist for the right of sports bodies to manage their own affairs.

A victory for Super League clubs will affect all Olympic sports, the revenues of which are usually minimal compared to football. Some governing bodies could face existential threats from commercial operators creating rival events.

One of these cases is heard Monday morning by the same Grand Chamber of 15 judges.

The International Skating Union is having its appeal hearing against the European Commission in a long-running antitrust case initially won by two Dutch speed skaters.

The skaters have challenged the ISU for threats of a lifetime ban for wanting to compete in a commercial event in Dubai.

A key difference is that speed skaters are unlikely to make money in a less wealthy sport. UEFA has made no attempt to ban players and Super League clubs have revenues that run into the hundreds of millions.

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