Football net
28 June 2021 | News

Ethical Concerns Raised Over European Super League

Earlier this year plans from the European Super League Company were met with widespread condemnation, with football governing bodies issuing a joint statement declaring their intent to stop the competition proceeding.

The plan was to form a super league of six English teams and six Spanish and Italian sides, with an eventual number of 20 teams in the league.  Controversially, 15 of those clubs would be permanent members with no risk of relegation, a concept which didn’t sit well with many across the sport.  Members of government in various countries also voiced their opposition to the plans, with Boris Johnson, with support from Keir Starmer, saying that the proposals are “very damaging for football”.  President Emmanuel Macron stated, “The French state will support all the steps taken by the LFP, FFF, UEFA and FIFA to protect the integrity of federal competitions, whether national or European.”

It seems apparent that pressure was put on clubs to join the league, often with very short notice periods.  FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino made it clear that clubs would have to bear responsibility for their decisions, saying that when it comes down to whether clubs remain in domestic leagues or the ESL they would be either in or out, with no room for half measures.  Some commentators opined that the ESL could restore competitive balance to domestic leagues; the separation of wealthy super-clubs from poor clubs in domestic leagues would only increase over time without the ESL.

Legal fall-out appeared soon after the 18 April announcement, with UEFA making statements that it would be undertaking a legal assessment almost immediately, and that it would seek to ban the twelve clubs from the 2020-2021 UEFA Champions League “as soon as possible”.  ESLC countered this, claiming that the law protected those clubs and their position in the Champions League.  UEFA withdrew its attempt to ban the clubs, and the matches went ahead as planned.

Sports lawyers contended that the plans were a “game of high stakes negotiation”, and were ultimately concerned with competition law; UEFA would argue that the closed league would be an abuse of power, and the ESLC arguing that any conditions imposed by UEFA or FIFA would be anti-competitive.

A commercial court in Madrid moved quickly to publish measures that would apply across the EU to prevent UEFA or FIFA from interfering with the launch of the Super League, including the application of sanctions against the founding clubs, until the case had been considered in court.  The Super League would argue that some rules that the founding clubs were subject to were not sound, and so were prepared to test this argument in court.

Just three days after the announcement, which was poorly planned, hurried, and lacking in cohesion, 9 of the 12 founding clubs withdrew their membership, each possibly liable for penalties of €130m for breach of contract.  Consequences of the collapse of the League are still being felt, with executives from several clubs resigning rather than risk sacking the over trust deficit that occurred.

While UEFA welcomed the clubs back into the UEFA fold, some members called for changes to the Champions League format that would come into effect in 2024 to be rolled back, as these changes would benefit the richer clubs.  However, the “welcome” also carried some caveats, including significant financial requirements that especially impact the three Spanish clubs due to their continued involvement in the Super League.

With such broad condemnation and governments pledging to support any football authorities who wish to take action against such plans in future, it’s fairly clear that the ESLC had either over-estimated support from surprised clubs and fans, or that it had under-estimated how deeply passion for current domestic teams and leagues runs.

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