UEFA and FIFA’s rules giving them the right to block clubs from joining a breakaway league and penalise players who do so are compatible with EU antitrust laws, an adviser to Europe’s top court said on Thursday.
The case centres on the dispute between UEFA, FIFA and the European Super League last year but could also impact other sports, clubs and players tempted by lucrative deals offered by rebel bodies and seeking to cash in during relatively short careers.
At issue is whether FIFA and UEFA’s statutes allowing them to block rival events, bar clubs and players from taking part in the Super League or ban them from taking part in national team matches conform with EU competition rules against companies or bodies abusing their dominance.
The European Super League collapsed in less than 48 hours after an outcry by fans, governments and players forced Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid to pull out.
That left only Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus as holdouts. The Super League took its case to a Spanish court which subsequently sought guidance from the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
“The FIFA-UEFA rules under which any new competition is subject to prior approval are compatible with EU competition law,” Advocate General Athanasios Rantos at the EU Court of Justice (CJEU), Europe’s highest, said.
While the Super League is free to set up its own independent football competition outside the UEFA and FIFA ecosystem, it cannot at the same time continue to participate in FIFA and UEFA football competitions without their prior authorisation, he said.
Rantos said legitimate objectives related to the specific nature of sport may justify certain restrictions. The CJEU, which follows the majority of such non-binding opinions, will rule in the coming months.
UEFA welcomed the adviser’s recommendation.
“The opinion reinforces the central role of federations in protecting the sport, upholding fundamental principles of sporting merit and open access across our members, as well as uniting football with shared responsibility and solidarity,” it said in a statement.
The case is C-333/21 European Superleague Company.