Will the chaos surrounding the Super League verdict result in the rise of a football exclusively for the wealthy?


The EU Court of Justice defines the halt (along with associated penalties) to the Super League as an ‘abuse of dominant position’ by UEFA and FIFA, effectively questioning the entire pyramidal structure upon which all major sports, not just football, worldwide are based. It’s not an explicit endorsement of the Super League’s revival, but in effect, it’s the first cannon shot of a legal and jurisdictional war where the lower leagues will be the ones paying the price.

Today’s ruling by the European Court of Justice, prompted by the Commercial Court of Madrid, regarding UEFA and FIFA’s ban on the organization of the so-called Super League of football, along with penalties imposed on founding clubs including Juventus, seems to be the first ripple in what could become a tsunami in a matter of months, poised to strike the global football organization. Football, and not just football, as many other sports are organized within the same pyramid structure that starts from national federations and reaches FIFA through the continents’ confederations. This legal framework, despite its numerous flaws, problems, and scandals, has always been based on the principle that only the entities within that pyramid have the power to create new club or national competitions, open only to clubs (and thus to the individual federations) affiliated and recognized by them. The same statute of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), for instance, states in Article 1 that ‘The FIGC is the only Italian sports federation recognized by CONI, UEFA, and FIFA for every aspect concerning the game of football at the national and international level.’ And Article 2 specifies that only the FIGC has the authority ‘to determine the requirements and criteria for promotion, relegation, and registration for championships, and particularly the adoption of a licensing system for participation in professional championships in accordance with UEFA principles for licenses in European competitions.’

Today, however, this European judgment has essentially sided with the founders of the Super League, stating that UEFA and FIFA, being private law entities comparable to companies, cannot prohibit other companies in the same sector (in this case, clubs) from organizing and creating other tournaments, under the penalty of abusing their dominant position. It’s of little consequence that the court hastened to specify that its ruling is not an authorization for the Super League, but rather a prohibition on UEFA from preventing its organization. It might seem like a play on words, yet its practical implications are clear to everyone. Logically speaking, there would be nothing to object to; anyone would cry foul if, for example,

one of Italy’s largest trade unions, the CGIL, opposed the creation of a new union by its members or former members. But, with all due respect, nobody cares about who the best union leader in Italy is at the end of the strike season. In sports, however, besides purely legal considerations, there are other needs to take into account; one, in particular, is that all the best must compete against each other so that the winners can truly be regarded as champions of Italy, Europe, or the world. It’s the fundamental essence of sports, driving the passion and curiosity of people, and the reason why redefined rankings after doping scandals nearly killed cycling and athletics, for example: sports enthusiasts want a winner who earns the title on the field by cleanly defeating all opponents. And to achieve this, it’s necessary for a single pyramidal structure to organize championships and determine access and promotion criteria, from grassroots levels up to the World Cup or the Champions League.

What a chaotic folly it would be if 22 clubs played among themselves in the self-referential Super League, while many others (including top-tier names like Bayern, Manchester United, Inter, Atletico Madrid, just to name a few off the top of my head) competed in a Champions League, albeit one diminished in technical value. Does football truly wish to retrace the ruinous steps of boxing, which now recognizes up to five different world champions for each weight category, a contradiction so futile it hardly warrants an explanation? Or return to the days when tennis was divided between professionals and amateurs, with the former barred from participating in Grand Slam tournaments, thus distorting the annals of history for decades? No, in sports as in many other facets of our society, to address today’s problems, we don’t need to regress to yesterday; rather, we need to find new paths that look to the future. Maintaining the current situation doesn’t mean granting UEFA and FIFA carte blanche on everything, from schedules to rights distribution, but dismantling the system (a system that, let’s remember, also funds many lower leagues) would only bring chaos and benefit those who have the money to create their own alternatives.”

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Gianluca Puzzo

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Gianluca Puzzo

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