Super League: are the threats of football authorities legally applicable?

Champions League illustration
If legal threats fuse between UEFA and members of the Super League, the response to this dispute promises to be very delicate.

Since the announcement of the creation of a Super League on Monday April 19, coming to compete directly with the Champions League, UEFA and Fifa and the members of this Super League are attacking with legal threats. On the one hand, UEFA threatens to ban clubs engaged in this closed league from participating in national, European and world competitions. On the other hand, the Super League claims to have seized preventively “the competent courts” in order to ensure its existence in the face of the threat of a legal battle with football authorities. If the fight promises to be fierce, what are the real weight of these threats? Jean-François Vilotte, expert in sports law and European law at the law firm De Gaulle Fleurance & Associés., Helps us see more clearly.

Can UEFA and Fifa really ban clubs from participating in national, European and international competitions as they have said? And can these instances also deprive the players of these World Cup clubs?
Jean-François Vilotte:
“First of all, there is a fundamental article in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), article 101 which protects free competition. Sanctioning clubs which participate in a closed league could be interpreted as a means of protecting a monopoly on the organization of competitions, which is an obstacle to this principle of article 101. Traditionally, this reasoning could have been taken in the light of European law.

But, there is also article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty. This indicates that sport is not a competence of the European Union, and that it remains a competence of the States. However, this article specifies that the Union’s action aims to develop the European dimension of sport by promoting fairness and openness in sports competitions. This means that the treaty itself recognizes as general interest the defense of the opening of sports competitions. You thus have a contradiction – European law is made up of these contradictions – between the principle of article 101, and a possible exception with article 165. “

So how do you resolve this type of contradiction?
JF. V .: “In principle, it is quite simple. The question that arises is the following: is the derogation from Article 101 based on the defense of the general interest? to preserve openness in sports competitions? Second, are any sanctions imposed by UEFA well proportionate and appropriate in view of the pursuit of this general interest?

Thus, everything is in the measure, the adaptation and the proportionality. This is why this case becomes an interesting subject in European law. Does the European Union finally want to take care of sport and promote an objective, which is the opening of sports competitions and therefore the preservation of this strong bond of solidarity between amateur and professional sport? Mass is not said. “

Can UEFA ban from the Champions League clubs engaged in the Super League this year even though the competition has not started?
JF. V .: “I am not commenting on this subject. Obviously, there are exchanges between the two parties and we are not there in terms of timing.”

Could UEFA use the arguments of protecting the calendar and the solidarity model to defend itself? Are these arguments legally valid?
JF. V .: “The model of solidarity yes. Then, the protection of the calendar returns to the question of physical integrity, that is to say the idea that the management of the calendars makes it possible to preserve the integrity, the health of the sportsmen. These arguments can be in line with article 165.

If we say: ‘I have a monopoly, I intend to exercise it, I absolutely refuse that any other external initiative works on my beds’, in this case, with regard to the treaty, that does not work. This is an anti-competitive practice. But if the decisions are based on the principles and objectives of section 165, then this approach is understandable by the judge. If the case ever ends up before the Court of Justice of the European Union, this is probably the approach that should be at work. “

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