The world of European football is undergoing a seismic shift, reminiscent of the groundbreaking Bosman ruling 23 years ago. A recent decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has sent shockwaves through the footballing community, challenging the established order and raising questions about the future of the sport.
Contrary to sensationalist headlines, the CJEU’s ruling does not endorse the Superliga project but instead emphasizes the limits of UEFA’s power. In this article, we will explore the ramifications of the ruling and its potential effects on European football.
CJEU’s Verdict: A Blow to UEFA’s Dominance
The CJEU’s ruling unequivocally declared that UEFA’s practices constituted an abuse of its dominant position. This decision sends a clear message that regulatory bodies, even within the realm of sports, will be subject to close scrutiny under EU competition law.
According to Pablo Ibáñez Colomo, a professor of Competition and Regulation at the London School of Economics, this strict scrutiny will extend to any authority, sports organization, or group of companies that holds a similar position to a regulatory body.
The CJEU’s ruling seems to reestablish the primacy of competition rules, undermining the antitrust exemptions previously enjoyed by European sports organizations.
Implications for UEFA: The Need for Adjustment
CJEU’s ruling necessitates a thorough review of UEFA’s regulations, particularly those related to event authorization, player and club sanctions, arbitration provisions, and exclusive jurisdiction. Viktoria Tsvetanova, a competition lawyer at Dentons, suggests that UEFA will have to reconsider certain practices in light of the restrictive reading of the ruling.
Other sports organizations that have operated under a monopolistic or quasi-monopolistic pyramid structure will also need to reevaluate their norms and practices. Despite UEFA’s attempts to downplay the impact of the ruling, claiming that it does not validate the Superliga, it is clear that the organization must undertake significant reforms to comply with the court’s requirements.
Court’s Assessment: Discriminatory Practices by UEFA
CJEU recognized the importance of sports and the hierarchical structure that delegates regulatory and licensing powers to a governing body. However, the court strongly disapproved of the way UEFA currently exercises its regulatory and licensing powers, citing the presence of arbitrary discriminatory aspects.
The ruling opens the door for alternative organizations to challenge UEFA’s system if they can demonstrate that their models are superior in distributing competition revenues, for example. The court’s decision, therefore, not only casts doubt on the existing order but also encourages the emergence of alternative competitions.
Rise of Alternative Competitions
CJEU’s ruling paves the way for innovative models and alternative competitions to flourish. Bernd Reichman, CEO of A22, a sports promotion company, wasted no time presenting a revamped proposal for a European Superliga immediately after the ruling.
This new proposal promises a more inclusive system with opportunities for promotion and relegation, as well as free streaming of all matches. Although some prominent clubs, such as Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, and AS Roma, have distanced themselves from the Superliga project, the ruling’s implications extend beyond this specific competition.
Other actors within the sports pyramid may be emboldened to challenge existing rules and practices, especially when they believe that a comparable organization, whether FIFA or another regulatory body, violates their rights.
Impact on Negotiating Power
In light of the CJEU’s ruling, negotiating power within the football landscape is likely to shift. Professor Colomo suggests that the ruling could lead to a natural inclination for certain actors within the pyramid structure to challenge existing rules.
This inclination is not confined to football alone but may extend to other sports as well. Any organization in a position comparable to FIFA or a regulatory body will be empowered to challenge practices they perceive as violating their rights.
The ruling, therefore, has the potential to reshape the balance of power in the sports world and foster a more open and competitive environment.
CJEU’s recent ruling against UEFA has far-reaching consequences for European football. It highlights the need for sports organizations to reassess their practices and conform to EU competition law.
While the ruling does not explicitly support the Superliga, it opens the door for alternative competitions to emerge. The court’s decision challenges the established order and empowers actors within the pyramid structure to challenge discriminatory practices.
As negotiations and reforms unfold, the future of European football hangs in the balance, with the potential for a more inclusive, competitive, and innovative landscape ahead.