LUXEMBOURG: From Spain to Ireland to Italy, European countries gave full-throated support to UEFA over the rebel European Super League at Europe’s top court, lauding its open model and social and educational importance.
The comments from the countries at a two-day hearing at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), underline the high stakes involved for the continent’s soccer governing body UEFA and other sports bodies with monopoly power and lucrative media rights and seeking to head off challengers.
The countries’ endorsement of UEFA, in effect a call to preserve the status quo, suggests the Court would need to take into account the social and economic aspects of the case and not just the legal and antitrust arguments.
UEFA found itself in the docks after the Super League accused it of abusing its power to block rival events and penalize players and clubs.
The Super League collapsed last year barely two days after its announcement as elite English, French and Italian clubs pulled out following an outcry from fans and governments, leaving just Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus.
The EU countries noted how revenues from UEFA help fund grassroots soccer as well as amateur, women and youth events and also enable small teams from remote regions to break into the major leagues.
Hungary said UEFA represents the values of the European Sports Model in protecting the physical and moral integrity of players and merit-based competition.
“These are values which UEFA and (world soccer governing body) FIFA follow, both in the organization of sports and the reallocation of revenues,” Hungary’s lawyer Ester Gyarmati told the 15-judge panel on the second day of the hearing.
UEFA’s restrictions clearly infringe EU competition law but are justified to safeguard the European Sports Model, Austria’s lawyer Franz Koppensteiner said.
Malta’s lawyer took a pop at the Super League.
“The Super League only took into account the narrow interests of its clubs, it ignores the open nature of competition based on merits,” Andria Buhagiar said.
Romania’s lawyer said the case was an existentialist one.
“This cartel cannot co-exist with the organization of UEFA and FIFA without leading to the certain death of open competition,” Emilia Gane said.
The European Commission, which acts as the competition enforcer in the 27-country bloc, took a more nuanced stand, saying there should be checks and balances on monopoly power.
“The exercise of regulatory functions must be subject to limits, obligations and control to prevent such bodies from distorting competition,” its lawyer Carlos Urraca Caviedes said.
He added that the European Sports Model was one way to run a sport but alternative governing bodies could be another.
Urraca Caviedes, however, criticized sanctions against players.
“It does not seem sanctions excluding players from participating in UEFA, FIFA are necessary or proportionate to protect those principles,” he said.
Court Advocate General Athanasios Rantos will give a non-binding opinion on Dec. 15. The Court, which usually follows four out of five such recommendations, will rule next year. The case is C333/21 European Superleague Company.