Football clubs behind the European Super League will accuse the sport’s governing bodies of breaking EU competition rules as they attempt to dismantle a “monopoly” they claim blocks the creation of rival contests.
Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Juventus — the three clubs behind the Super League — are taking legal action against Uefa and Fifa in an effort to fundamentally reorganise the running of the sport. A victory in the landmark case could allow them to take more control over the finances of the competitions they play in.
According to court filings seen by the Financial Times, A22, a Spain-based company that represents the Super League clubs, will ask the European Court of Justice to judge whether Uefa can continue to act as a regulator that is able to place sanctions on clubs, while also acting as a participant, profiting from organising tournaments such as the Champions League.
The Super League appeared to collapse soon after being unveiled in April amid protest from fans, pundits and politicians. Within days, nine of the rebel clubs — Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Atlético Madrid — announced they would abandon the project.
But Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus remain committed to the concept.
According to the court documents, the Super League accuses Uefa and Fifa of abusing their dominant position. “Contrary to other sporting competition markets, Uefa and Fifa keep and fiercely defend a monopolistic position in European football that goes against competition law, despite efforts from other operators to access the market,” it says.
Uefa has received widespread political support from European governments, 16 of which will intervene in the court hearing, most of them to defend the “European model of sport”. Brussels will also make observations in the case “related to the compliance of Uefa and Fifa rules with EU competition and internal market rules,” said a spokesman for the European Commission.
A Madrid court has referred the case to the ECJ to rule on whether the statutes of Uefa and Fifa, which give them exclusive rights to organise football in Europe, are compatible with EU law.
The ECJ’s preliminary ruling is unlikely to settle the dispute, with a similar case involving a breakaway skiing competition being fought out in the Luxembourg court for more than seven years.
The Super League’s filing said the key objective of the legal proceedings was to determine whether Uefa and Fifa were acting in line with competition rules and whether they could “legitimately exclude competition in a market that represents 1 per cent of GDP of the European Union.”
The filing makes reference to previous attempts to break the alleged monopoly held by the two institutions, such as one in the 1990s by a group backed by Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister and owner of AC Milan, to launch a breakaway contest.
Among A22s arguments is that Uefa structures its competitions to benefit clubs from large countries as well as “state-backed” teams.
It is unclear how the Super League would address this issue. Its original 12 clubs included Manchester City, owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a billionaire member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, and it only invited teams from England, Spain and Italy.
The plan was for the teams to continue to play in the national competitions, such as the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga, but replace Uefa’s Champions League.
The radical concept represented a schism with football’s “pyramid” structure, under which even the smallest teams can climb to the top of the game. A22 has abandoned some features of the original proposals, such as ensuring permanent places for the founder teams, and allowing “promotion” and “relegation” from the competition.
A spokesperson for Uefa said that the dual role of sports governing bodies has been endorsed and recognised by European institutions. This combination of roles helps “ensure the fair, coherent and holistic positive development of European sport”, the person added.
“Challenges to this model currently being pursued by a few elite football clubs and their financial backers are self-serving and desperate. They are a danger to European football and the entire European sports ecosystem.”
Fifa did not respond to requests for comment.