13 May 2022 - 1:25 PM
Variety of options for UEFA and FIFA to punish 'rebel' Super League clubs
- Lawyers tell Off The Pitch the governing bodies will likely press ahead with disciplinary action against FC Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid with several options available, including a player World Cup ban.
- After a Madrid court removed legal protection preventing punishment against the clubs last month, UEFA has given little indication of what measures it will take.
- Why it matters: Football's governing bodies are under pressure to take strong enough action against the rebel clubs to deter future attempts to form a breakaway competition.
- The perspective: UEFA and FIFA may wait for the CJEU's decision before taking action – assuming the court sides with them.
Players from "rebel" European Super League clubs could still be barred from playing at this year's World Cup and the clubs are likely to face financial penalties.
Legal experts consulted by Off The Pitch say FIFA and UEFA are expected to press ahead with disciplinary action, though may wait to first hear the case verdict from the European Union's highest court.
Last month, judge Sofía Gil García, from Madrid's Commercial Court 17, lifted the prohibition on UEFA and FIFA to impose sanctions or disciplinary measures on the founding clubs of the ESL. While the competition was initially backed by 12 clubs, only FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus still publicly support it.
The clubs had previously been granted "interim measures", successfully arguing punishment would impede their plan to create a Super League outside the control of UEFA. However, judge Gil removed the legal protection.
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"It has in no way been demonstrated that the threat of sanctions to the three clubs would lead to the impossibility of carrying out the project," she said in her ruling.
Other interim measures, ordering UEFA not to take any action or make any statement that could "directly or indirectly" hinder the plan for the Super League, were also removed.
Possible World Cup ban
Juan de Dios Crespo Pérez, partner and head of sports law at Valencia-based Ruiz-Huerta & Crespo, believes the governing bodies will move forward with punishing the clubs.
"The interim measure adopted 'inaudita parte' (without hearing from UEFA) was intended to prevent UEFA from retaliating against the three clubs holding the Super league: FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus," he tells Off The Pitch.
"UEFA was therefore determined to take action against the clubs since it would otherwise not have opposed the interim measure.
"It therefore seems reasonable to expect that it will indeed take some kind of action against the clubs that persist in their will to develop the Super League project."
What that action will be remains to be seen. Italian newspaper Gazzetta Della Sport has reported that, while it legally has the power to sanction the rebel clubs, UEFA has "neither time nor desire to do so now".
The newspaper reports UEFA will impose fines of €15 million plus the withholding of 5 per cent of UEFA prize money for the 2023/24 season. If the rebel clubs refuse, they would be unable to play in UEFA club competitions that season.
PR | Juan de Dios Crespo Pérez, partner and head of sports law at Valencia-based Ruiz-Huerta & Crespo
In May last year, the other nine original ESL clubs agreed to make a combined €15 million payment to benefit children's and grassroots football across Europe. They also received the sanction withholding of 5 per cent of UEFA prize money, starting in 2023/24.
However, Crespo believes more immediate action is likely against the rebel clubs, including banning their international players from the World Cup in Qatar, which starts in November.
"In short, we can conclude that the most likely punishment that would be imposed by both FIFA and UEFA is to exclude teams in any further competition at domestic, European or world level and their players may be deprived of the opportunity to represent their national teams, losing the opportunity to participate in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Financial losses would be an inevitable consequence of such imposed measures," he says.
"Given the size of the clubs involved in the Super League project, it is to be expected that UEFA will adopt sanctions gradually, starting with financial penalties, as deducting points would seriously distort the competition and a temporary ban on participation would be very detrimental to the competition itself."
Global players’ union FIFPRO has previously said it would "vigorously oppose" any legal efforts to stop players from representing their national teams.
How, and when, will UEFA act?
Simon Neill and Joachim Piotrowski are competition lawyers specialising in the application of competition law in professional sport for Osborne Clarke.
They point out that the ESL dispute came before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for a preliminary ruling last May. The Madrid Commercial Court asked whether UEFA and FIFA having exclusive rights for new competitions was in breach of EU competition rules. There was also a question on whether the governing bodies had the legal power to require prior authorisation for other competitions, like the ESL.
"This ruling, which is expected in the coming months, is likely to have a major impact on the outcome of this dispute, and may dissuade UEFA from imposing any sanctions on the ESL clubs in the meantime," Piotrowski says.
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After the Madrid court removed the club's protection from penalties, UEFA said it "welcomes this decision and is considering its implications". FIFA declined to comment on questions from Off The Pitch. UEFA did not respond.
While it may wish to wait for the CJEU's preliminary judgment, Neill and Piotrowski say UEFA will feel the need to punish the rebel clubs.
"Given UEFA's hard stance on the issue from the outset, as well as the very real threat that the ESL poses to UEFA's flagship competitions like the Champions League, it is likely that UEFA will now look to impose some disciplinary measures," Neill says.
"One possibility is that UEFA may now move ahead with the disciplinary measures it had already imposed on the teams, including economic sanctions, bans from European competitions and ordering ESL to dissolve the project."
The rebel clubs are expected to appeal the Madrid court's decision to lift interim measures to the city's Provincial Court (Audiencia Provincial).
But Neill and Piotrowski say judge Gil ruled that Spanish courts cannot intervene to impose interim measures.
Should the clubs be disciplined by UEFA and or FIFA, they would still have the option of appealing, including to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Crespo says the governing bodies could use the opportunity to seriously discipline the rebel clubs in the hope of stopping any future attempts to create a ESL.
"UEFA may adopt a series of sanctions against the Super League clubs that would lead them to desist from their efforts to launch the Super League, at least until they obtain a decision from the Court of Justice of the European Union," he says.
"Precisely, if the clubs have sought interim measures to prevent UEFA from retaliating against them, it is because they are aware that they need to stay within the current official competitions to maintain their position of strength vis-à-vis UEFA and FIFA."