Fifa issues ban threat in bid to fight off European Super League
Soccer - 21 Jan 2021
Fifa and soccer's six confederations today threatened to ban any players from international tournaments, including the showpiece World Cup, if they take part in a proposed breakaway European Super League.
Amid renewed reports that the continent's elite are formulating plans, backed by investment banks, to launch a closed league, Fifa said: “Fifa… would like to strongly emphasise that such a competition would not be recognised by either Fifa or the respective confederations. Any club or player involved in such a competition would as a consequence not be allowed to participate in any competition organised by Fifa or the confederations.”
The statement is co-signed by the heads of the six continental confederations which make up Fifa’s membership.
The threat to ban players involved in a European Super League from competitions such as the World Cup, Uefa's European Championships, South America's Copa America and the Africa Cup of Nations is the most explicit public statement the sport's governing bodies have made on the subject.
It comes after revelations in late October that financiers from the US had been putting together a $6 billion funding package to create a European Premier League, a project involving the continent's biggest clubs.
It was reported at the time that JP Morgan was leading the charge, and had been in talks with other investors about financing the league, which would feature potentially as many as 18 teams.
The reports said that leading clubs from England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain were all in negotiations about becoming founder members of the competition, with this number known to include Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.
Indeed, in late October, Josep Maria Bartomeu, at that point Barcelona’s president, said in an interview before his departure that the club had agreed to join “a future European Super League, which would guarantee the future financial sustainability of the club.”
Such a league would conclude with the top teams competing in a knockout format, and a start date of 2022 is said to have been discussed - although given that the present Uefa rights cycle lasts until 2024, that would appear to be at least two years early.
Given the number of clubs mooted in the October report, Fifa’s threat to ban players could turn out to be somewhat ineffective - the more teams take part in any Super League, the harder it would be to ban a cohort of the world’s top players from the most high-profile international competitions, given the need to attract paying broadcast audiences for those tournaments.
While the concept of a European Super League is nothing new, with that threat having been used as a tool by clubs in commercial negotiations related to the Champions League, what raised eyebrows with October’s report was that it was reportedly backed and sanctioned by Fifa itself - something which has now been strongly refuted.
The global governing body added in its statement: “All competitions should be organised or recognised by the relevant body at their respective level, by Fifa at the global level and by the confederations at the continental level.”
Lars-Christer Olsson, president of European Leagues, the body that represents the continent's top soccer leagues, issued his own statement shortly after, saying: “The European sports model is based on sporting merit, promotion and relegation, with qualification to international club competitions via domestic league competitions… All Football Associations and professional leagues in Europe are recognising and following Fifa and [Uefa] statutes, and this will guide us in our actions to stop this initiative.”
It added that if any more steps towards a Super League were taken, it would produce a co-ordinated response with Fifa, Uefa et al.
Although Fifa’s comments seem unequivocal, the threat that players will face bans from top-tier events and tournaments could be open to legal debate, given that in December the European Union’s general court ruled against the International Skating Union in a long-running dispute regarding a similar issue.
The ISU’s rules previously stated that skaters who took part in commercially-lucrative events backed by outside bodies would be barred from competing in the winter Olympic Games and ISU European and World Championships.
However, following an appeal by two Dutch skaters in 2015, the European Commission decided in 2017 that the ISU had imposed “disproportionately punitive” sanctions on skaters, and that this was preventing the emergence of rival events - a violation of EU antitrust rules.
The commission ruled that the severe penalties imposed on skaters served to protect the ISU’s commercial interests, and ordered the federation to lift the regulations. The ISU contested the ruling and brought legal action before the general court, which duly backed the commission’s decision.