Ruling against UEFA, FIFA could threaten their long-term dominance -legal experts



Fri, 22 Dec 2023 - 11:28 GMT


Fri, 22 Dec 2023 - 11:28 GMT

General view of the UEFA logo at UEFA Headquarters before the draw REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

General view of the UEFA logo at UEFA Headquarters before the draw REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

(Reuters) - A European court's ruling that the continent's soccer governing body UEFA and its global counterpart FIFA breached EU law by boxing out a proposed competitor could be a long-term threat to their dominance, even if the immediate impact is limited, legal experts say.


The Thursday ruling by the European Court of Justice came alongside a decision against speed skating's governing body that could also check the monopoly powers of governing bodies across European sports, where they function as both top regulators and market participants.


"Whole sports movements are looking at their governance procedures now and thinking about how they can continue to control their sports in a way that's compatible with EU competition laws," said Edge Hill University law professor Richard Parrish.


The ECJ ruled UEFA and FIFA contravened competition law by preventing 12 clubs from forming a European Super League, rejecting the idea that sports governing bodies can arbitrarily ban members who participate in competitions set up without their approval.


The ruling, which does not itself greenlight the Super League, requires UEFA and FIFA to have rules around participation in competitor leagues that are "transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate," creating potential openings for upstarts.


"What will likely happen now is some sort of arrangement behind closed doors to allow some sort of pan-European league," said Grahame Anderson, a barrister at Littleton Chambers.


UEFA had already updated its rules in 2022 in anticipation of a ruling like Thursday's and says it believes it is now compliant with "all relevant European laws and regulations."


The change in the legal landscape weakens its position in negotiations with potential rivals.


The new rules could make it difficult for UEFA to justify rejecting a prospective competitor tournament that satisfies its new rules or mimics its structure.


"So what happens if the Super League or someone else says, we want to set up a league exactly like UEFA's," Parrish said. "What grounds would UEFA have to block that?"


The Super League itself has widely been considered dead since UK Premier League clubs withdrew in response to backlash in 2021, though a rump version is still fighting UEFA and FIFA in a Spanish court.


Top backers including Real Madrid and Barcelona hailed Thursday's ruling as a watershed moment for competition in soccer.


Barcelona said in a statement that the ECJ ruling "paves the way for a new elite level football competition in Europe by opposing the monopoly over the football world."



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