The Super League, to countries opposed to a closed competition: “They believe that UEFA is united, but it only gives them alms”

The Super League, to countries opposed to a closed competition: "They believe that UEFA is united, but it only gives them alms"

The future of European football is settled from this Monday before the European Court of Justice, where the traditional model, led by UEFA, faces the alternative in the form of the Super League proposed by some of the clubs. richest or most indebted on the planet. The hearing held in Luxembourg, which ends on Tuesday, confirmed the head-on clash between the two camps. UEFA has accused big clubs, including Real Madrid and Barcelona, ​​of wanting to set up a private competition to share the millionaire profits. The Super League, meanwhile, accuses the football organization of exploiting a lucrative monopoly which it abuses to curb any desire for competition.

The first legal duel between UEFA and the Super League provoked the intervention, during Monday’s session, of representatives of 21 countries, including Spain. According to a Super League lawyer, the vast majority of countries were resolutely opposed to the creation of a “closed” competition, outside of UEFA, since they “wrongly” believe that the breakaway format does not guarantee them current competition standards. .economic solidarity. “They believe that UEFA supports them because they give them a million euros, and it’s not solidarity but alms,” said the source. “Since when do Lithuanian clubs play in the Champions League?

The conflict will be decided by the Grand Chamber of the Court, made up of the president of the court, the Belgian Koen Lenaerts, and 14 other magistrates. According to the parties consulted, the Court will take months to decide and it is not certain that it will issue a prescriptive resolution, with a clear mandate, or simply indicative so that later it will be the Justice of each country that applies the standard under the criteria that are indicated. The case is eminently Spanish in character, to the point that the hearing was held in Spanish with simultaneous interpretation into other EU languages. And it is that the Superliga was registered as a company in Spain and both parties were defended by Spanish lawyers, among others. On the Superliga side, Miguel Odriozola, from the Clifford Chance office, has exercised; at UEFA, Helmut Brokelmann, one of the managing partners of the Madrid firm MLAB; and for FIFA, Álvaro Pascual, from the Baño León office.

The hearing is the first step at European level in the trial which broke out in April 2020, when the clubs grouped together in the European Super League announced the launch of a new European football competition reserved for only 20 clubs. The proposal provoked an avalanche of protests and condemnations from UEFA and FIFA, other clubs and supporters, national and European authorities, and even succeeded in overcoming the Brexit gap and putting London and Brussels agree on the brutal rejection of the initiative.

Faced with the harsh reaction, the Super League promoters retreated to their winter quarters, waiting for better times to resume the offensive. But they kept the flame burning in the courts, taking legal action against UEFA (Union of European Football Federations) and FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) in Commercial Court Number 17 in Madrid. The Superliga demanded that the Spanish courts find the two organizations guilty of abuse of a dominant position, of impeding free competition by disproportionate restrictions and that they be ordered to put an end to all their actions aimed at aborting the birth of the new competition.

“Real Madrid won the Champions League, but let’s not forget that they lost at home to Sheriff Tiraspol with a last-minute goal from a Luxembourg player,” the UEFA defense recalled. “Imagine the impact of this incredible victory for children in Moldova and Luxembourg!”

Given the scale of the case, the Madrid court has sent a request for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice of the EU, a common procedure when national judges have doubts about the interpretation of EU rules. In this case, the magistrate in charge asked the Court based in Luxembourg whether the rules of UEFA and FIFA which subject the launch of new competitions to their authorization are compatible with the articles of the EU Treaty on free competition.

UEFA presented the trial in Luxembourg as a battle between itself, in the role of grassroots defender David, and a band of Goliaths eager to take over the most popular sport on the European continent and one rare cultural element that unites European citizens. regardless of borders, languages ​​or flags. “Real Madrid won the UEFA Champions League this year, but let’s not forget that at the start of the season they lost at home to Moldovan team Sheriff Tiraspol with a last-minute goal from a Luxembourg player “, recalled the defense. And he underlined to finish: “Imagine the impact of this incredible victory for children in Moldova and here in Luxembourg!”.

For UEFA, the days of the illusion of modest clubs and their supporters would have been numbered if the league of giants promoted by Florentino Pérez and Joan Laporta had prospered. “The Super League would have dealt a fatal blow to the European sporting model, a model systematically supported by the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament”, proclaims the UEFA defense argument to which EL PAÍS had to access. “It is this model that has made Europe the best place in the world to play and enjoy football. UEFA is there to defend it”, concludes this same text, on the basis of the oral intervention during the hearing.

Lawyers for the organization chaired by Aleksander Ceferin pointed out that UEFA received 6.5% of the net income from its competitions, which is equivalent to 190 million euros in the 2022 financial year. “Let’s compare this with the collective revenue of Super League clubs, of more than 6,000 million euros”, insists the defense of traditional football. UEFA also insists that its revenue is used primarily for grassroots development.

Miguel Odriozola, on behalf of the Super League, opened the proceedings by pointing out that UEFA wielded perverse power in its multiple capacities as football regulator, tournament organizer and business manager. “UEFA will never authorize a rival league,” said Odriozola, attacking the new regulations of the European body, which intends to open up to the gestation of new interclub competitions. “UEFA has already declared its intention to ban the Super League before knowing any aspect of the project. It will always ban the Super League because UEFA has a conflict of interest.”

“Is the Tour de France contrary to the European dimension of sport because it is organized by a private company?” asked Fernando Irurzun, promoter of the Super League

Fernando Irurzun, representative of A22, a company that promotes the Super League, defended in court the European character of private companies when they manage sports that are culturally rooted in the community. “If we talk about a supposed European model and look at other sports, the conclusion is that the organization of professional club competitions is not driven by international federations,” Irurzun said, “it’s like that in cycling, basketball, motorcycling, car racing, paddle tennis, golf, tennis… In rugby, a national team tournament such as the Six Nations is organized by a company owned by a fund. investment. UEFA prefers to talk about its European model because its position has little to do with the European dimension. Let’s move on to cycling: Is the Tour de France contrary to the European dimension of sport because it is organized by a and that he has the right to invite several of the participating teams for reasons other than sporting merit?

Regarding the legal arguments, the UEFA defense recalled that the European treaties recognize the “specificity” of sport because of its important social and educational function. And that it is not a self-proclaimed organization, but the result of the agreement of 55 national associations. As for the rules to authorize the appearance of alternative competitions, the defense assures that without them “formats, calendars and contradictory standards would arise which would tip European football into anarchy”.

But the specificity of the sport has not always exempted the organizers from respecting the rules of the competition. On the same Monday and in the same room of the Court where the hearing on football was held, another hearing was held on a case related to figure skating and speed skating. In 2017, the European Commission ruled that the rules of the International Skating Union (UIP), an equivalent body to UEFA or FIFA in this sport, were incompatible with European competition law because they prevented skaters to participate freely in competitions organized by third parties. The IPU appealed the Commission’s decision to the General Court, which upheld the Brussels decision. This Monday was held the hearing of a new UIP appeal, this time in cassation. The final skating verdict could set a precedent for either a UEFA slide or an irrevocable Super League drop.

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