The aftermath of the European Super League (ESL) venture in 2021 has resurfaced, drawing attention once again following a significant decision by the European Court of Justice.
Initially, the proposal to establish a separate European league faced vehement opposition from fans after 12 prominent European clubs, including six from the Premier League, publicly supported the project. UEFA, FIFA, and national league associations united to denounce and block the idea, leading most clubs involved to swiftly retract their intentions to participate.
However, the ESL and its supporters, particularly Sports Agency A22, have now received a favorable ruling regarding their claims of unjust treatment by UEFA and FIFA.
The European Court of Justice has proclaimed that FIFA and UEFA rules requiring their prior approval for new interclub football projects like the Super League, along with forbidding clubs and players from engaging in these competitions, are deemed unlawful. The statement highlighted the absence of transparent, objective, non-discriminatory, and proportionate frameworks within FIFA and UEFA regulations, asserting that these governing bodies are abusing their dominant positions.
This bold declaration by the ECJ has been welcomed by the ESL and A22. Bernd Reichart, A22’s CEO, asserted that the ruling secures the “right to exist” for these entities and emphasizes the newfound freedom for clubs, offering free broadcasting of Super League matches to fans and ensuring guaranteed income and solidarity expenses for participating clubs.
Yet, despite the apparent universality of the ECJ’s stance, the ruling explicitly clarifies that it does not imply automatic approval for a competition like the Super League. This distinction maintains the opposition from UEFA, FIFA, and various member associations against the project.
While the ruling bolsters the claim of unfair treatment by the ESL, it does not substantially shift the stance of either side. However, it does liberate the Super League members theoretically, providing them with more flexibility without the looming threat of sanctions from UEFA or FIFA.
UEFA responded by acknowledging the ECJ’s ruling but stressed that it does not validate the ‘Super League’. They expressed readiness to revise internal regulations while maintaining steadfast opposition to the ESL. On the other hand, FIFA, closely aligned with UEFA, has yet to issue a formal response.
The concept of an alternative European competition outside UEFA’s structure has been in discussion since the 1960s. The Perez-led ESL project emerged in April 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, triggering widespread criticism and subsequent withdrawals by participating clubs.
From a timeline perspective:
– April 18, 2021: 12 clubs announced intent to join ESL, triggering objections from FIFA, UEFA, and major European leagues.
– May 2021: Nine of the 12 clubs withdrew, leading UEFA to outline reintegration measures for them.
– June 2021: Fan bodies across Europe publicly opposed the ESL plan.
– October 2022: A22 struck a deal to support a revived ESL model amid threatened UEFA sanctions.
– February 2023: A22 and ESL proposed a reformed tournament manifesto with promotion and relegation criteria based on merit.
– December 21, 2023: ECJ ruling acknowledges unfair power usage by UEFA/FIFA against ESL but doesn’t sanction its creation.