The threat formulated Thursday by Fifa and UEFA to exclude from their competitions any participant in a "Superleague" could trigger a legal battle, explained to AFP Antoine Duval, specialist in European sports law at the Asser institute of The Hague.
QUESTION: Can sports bodies take any measure to prevent the emergence of private competitions?
ANSWER: No, especially since the Court of Justice of the European Union rendered a judgment in mid-December 2020 concerning the International Skating Union (ISU) and asks questions very similar to the Superleague file.
The ISU wanted to prevent speed skaters from participating in an alternative competition (launched in 2014 by the South Korean firm Icederby then abandoned, editor's note), by depriving them of the Olympics.
The federation said it wanted to protect the integrity of its sport and guarantee the safety of athletes, but its sanctions, even reduced after a first decision by the European Commission, were deemed disproportionate.
One could certainly argue that the situation is a little different for footballers, because international competitions are less essential for them than the Olympics are for skaters.
But are they ready to give up the World Cup to participate in the Superleague?
The only threat of excluding them could fall under European competition law.
Q: How can Fifa and UEFA fight against the Superleague project while respecting this legal framework?
A: There are two things to watch out for: first, you have to see what "objectives" the authorities invoke in order to act.
The Commission's decision in the ISU case seems to allow for example the protection of their calendar, which could be used by UEFA since the Superleague would compete directly with its Champions League.
They can also invoke their model of solidarity, that is to say their ability to redistribute the money from TV rights to support less wealthy clubs and amateur football, facing a private and purely lucrative project.
Finally, we will have to look in detail at how their system of ineligibility is written (for international competitions, editor's note), because we do not yet know precisely what sanctions UEFA and FIFA will apply and it is therefore difficult to determine. 'assess its proportionality.
Q: The Superleague is not yet launched, and it is not certain that it will be one day: do we have to wait until players are really sanctioned to have the answer to these questions?
A: No, procedurally it can start now: the simple threat from Fifa and UEFA can allow the clubs behind the project, if they want to make themselves known, to turn to the European Commission.
As of tomorrow, they could file a complaint and say that Fifa and UEFA want to prevent the emergence of an alternative competition.
This is what happened for the ISU, since the procedure started without the skaters ever being sanctioned.
In general and beyond football, this case law will force sports federations to justify their raison d'être, in terms of solidarity, health and safety of athletes, and the need to protect some of their competitions.
(Interview by Coralie FEBVRE)
© 2021 AFP