United Kingdom

European Super League clubs would WIN any court case brought by UEFA or FIFA, says legal expert

European Super League clubs have a good chance of winning any legal battle with UEFA if football’s governing body tries to block plans for the breakaway competition, an expert has warned.

The 12 clubs, from England, Italy and Spain, announced plans on Sunday night to set up a competition to rival UEFA’s Champions League and Europa League tournaments.

In response UEFA has said any participating clubs will be banned from domestic and European competition and players, who take part, would not be allowed to represent their countries.

This could mean the Big Six in the Premier League, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal, may be booted out of the top flight if the plans proceed.

As reported by Sportsmail, the Super League has said it has already commenced legal action ‘in the relevant courts’, to head off any challenge from UEFA to its radical plans.

And now, an expert in sports competition law, Mark Orth, of MEOlaw based in Munich, has told Sportsmail he thinks the rebels will succeed if the row goes to court based on competition law and precedents set in previous cases.

‘I am of the opinion they have a strong case,’ said Orth, who has advised football clubs on this area of law.

‘The court is the right way to go. They have a good chance of winning. There are good prospects for the start of the Super League and the clubs that take part.

UEFA's Champions League is under serious threat of a breakaway league of the top teams

Liverpool and Tottenham are among six English teams to have agreed to the new project

Orth’s confidence in the Super League case is based in part on the fact that two European courts have now passed judgements overturning similar moves by other sporting federations, making the threat by football's governing bodies appear hollow.

The European Commission has previously ruled that the International Skating Union cannot prevent speed skaters from participating in new money-spinning events. That decision was supported in a judgement in Europe's second highest court, the General Court in Luxembourg, in December.

And in January, a German court took that decision as a precedent when it prevented the national and international wrestling federations from blocking a new competition.

Orth says there have been other cases, too, in Sweden and in Italy, to name a few.

The fledgling Super League has not revealed which courts it has lodged papers with, but Orth believes they are likely to be the High Court in London and in Italy.

Although the UK is now outside of the European Union the law that applies in this area is largely unchanged. By taking their case to a court on the continent, the Super League opens the way to a judgement in the European Court of Justice.

Manchester United and Chelsea were among a group of six Premier League teams announced on Sunday night to join a breakaway European Super League

UEFA is expected to make two challenges to the nascent Super League. Firstly, to ban its formation and secondly, if that fails, to impose the sanctions it has already threatened.

Orth thinks neither can succeed.

‘If a monopolist is allowed to prohibit the generation of competition, then you do not need competition law at all,’ he said. ‘If that is allowed it touches on the fundamentals of competition law. There should be an opportunity to open the market.’

He compares the situation in football to other industries.

‘What if Amazon just assumed it could introduce exclusivity for dealers saying if you are offering your goods on any other online platform you are excluded from our platform. There would be an outcry.’

Aleksander Ceferin, president of UEFA, has negotiated a new Champions League

In this case there is an outcry – against the European Super League proposal.

The Super League would include 20 teams, but 15 would be ‘founder members’ and guaranteed participation year after year, with only five actually qualifying. The founder members would be offered up to £310 million each to join the competition, which most observers outside of the clubs involved say would wreck domestic football.

Fans, politicians, governing bodies and some of football’s most famous names joined in condemning the staggering development, which was the brainchild of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and was officially announced in a statement late on Sunday night.

But that may not hold sway in court.

Liverpool owner John W Henry will act as one of the European Super League's vice-chairman

‘When you apply competition law it should not be influenced by political considerations,’ said Orth.

The Super League clubs announced they had already commenced legal action in a letter sent by the group to FIFA President Gianni Infantino and UEFA counterpart Aleksander Ceferin saying the Super League has already been underwritten by funding of 4 billion euros ($5.5 billion) from a financial institution.

“We are concerned that FIFA and UEFA may respond to this invitation letter by seeking to take punitive measures to exclude any participating club or player from their respective competitions,” the Super League clubs wrote to Infantino and Ceferin

SUPER LEAGUE FULL STATEMENT AND COMPETITION FORMAT

Twelve of Europe’s leading football clubs have today [Sunday] come together to announce they have agreed to establish a new mid-week competition, the Super League, governed by its Founding Clubs.

AC Milan, Arsenal, Atlético Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur have all joined as Founding Clubs.

It is anticipated that a further three clubs will join ahead of the inaugural season, which is intended to commence as soon as practicable. Going forward, the Founding Clubs look forward to holding discussions with UEFA and FIFA to work together in partnership to deliver the best outcomes for the new League and for football as a whole.

The formation of the Super League comes at a time when the global pandemic has accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model. Further, for a number of years, the Founding Clubs have had the objective of improving the quality and intensity of existing European competitions throughout each season, and of creating a format for top clubs and players to compete on a regular basis.

The pandemic has shown that a strategic vision and a sustainable commercial approach are required to enhance value and support for the benefit of the entire European football pyramid.

In recent months extensive dialogue has taken place with football stakeholders regarding the future format of European competitions. The Founding Clubs believe the solutions proposed following these talks do not solve fundamental issues, including the need to provide higher quality matches and additional financial resources for the overall football pyramid.

Competition Format

• 20 participating clubs with 15 Founding Clubs and a qualifying mechanism for a further five teams to qualify annually based on achievements in the prior season.

• Midweek fixtures with all participating clubs continuing to compete in their respective national leagues, preserving the traditional domestic match calendar which remains at the heart of the club game.

• An August start with clubs participating in two groups of ten, playing home and away fixtures, with the top three in each group automatically qualifying for the quarter finals.

Teams finishing fourth and fifth will then compete in a two-legged play-off for the remaining quarter-final positions. A two-leg knockout format will be used to reach the final at the end of May, which will be staged as a single fixture at a neutral venue.

As soon as practicable after the start of the men’s competition, a corresponding women’s league will also be launched, helping to advance and develop the women’s game. 

The new annual tournament will provide significantly greater economic growth and support for European football via a long-term commitment to uncapped solidarity payments which will grow in line with league revenues. These solidarity payments will be substantially higher than those generated by the current European competition and are expected to be in excess of €10 billion (£8.7bn) during the course of the initial commitment period of the Clubs.

In addition, the competition will be built on a sustainable financial foundation with all Founding Clubs signing up to a spending framework. In exchange for their commitment, Founding Clubs will receive an amount of €3.5 billion (£3bn) solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic. Florentino Pérez, President of Real Madrid and the first Chairman of the Super League said: 'We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world. Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.'

Backing the new European league, Andrea Agnelli, Chairman of Juventus and Vice-Chairman of the Super League said: 'Our 12 Founder clubs represent billions of fans across the globe and 99 European trophies. We have come together at this critical moment, enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future, substantially increasing solidarity, and giving fans and amateur players a regular flow of headline fixtures that will feed their passion for the game while providing them with engaging role models.'

Joel Glazer, Co-Chairman of Manchester United and Vice-Chairman of the Super League said: 'By bringing together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season, the Super League will open a new chapter for European football, ensuring world class competition and facilities, and increased financial support for the wider football pyramid.'

UEFA STATEMENT IN FULL 

UEFA, the English Football Association and the Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and LaLiga, and the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Lega Serie A have learned that a few English, Spanish and Italian clubs may be planning to announce their creation of a closed, so-called Super League.

If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we – UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations - will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever.

We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.

As previously announced by FIFA and the six Federations, the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.

We thank those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up to this. We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced. 

This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. 

Enough is enough.

“Your formal statement does, however, compel us to take protective steps to secure ourselves against such an adverse reaction, which would not only jeopardize the funding commitment under the Grant but, significantly, would be unlawful. For this reason, SLCo (Super League Company) has filed a motion before the relevant courts in order to ensure the seamless establishment and operation of the Competition in accordance with applicable laws.”

However, competition law is notoriously complex and the Super League will have a huge fight on its hands, given the weight of the political opposition.

The European Commission vice-president for promoting the European way of life attacked the plans today.

Manchester City were the last of the six English teams to declare intent for the breakaway 

“We must defend a values-driven European model of sport based on diversity and inclusion,” EU commissioner Margaritis Schinas said on Twitter after the clubs’ announcement.

“There is no scope for reserving it for the few rich and powerful clubs who want to sever links with everything associations stand for: national leagues, promotion and relegation and support to grassroots amateur football.

“Universality, inclusion and diversity are key elements of European sport and of our European way of life.”

And experts are also lining up against the Super League. Tsjalle van der Burg, assistant professor in Economics at the University of Twente in Holland, recently published a paper arguing the Super League is in fact a violation of competition law because it excludes most clubs from qualification.

“[It] means we’re talking about agreements that restrict competition, something that is contrary to competition law. The European Commission should therefore move to prohibit a Super League before it even starts,” Van der Burg said.

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