The European Union openly supports FIFA and the federations and against the creation of a closed football “Euroleague”.
On January 21, FIFA issued a joint statement together with all its federations-members declaring war on European clubs that are aiming towards the creations of a private league following the example of Euroleague basketball.
This scenario has been known for three years… The big clubs in Europe want to establish their own private “Champions League”, leaving out UEFA. According to a report in the London Times, the plan is now ready to go into operation with the name of the league being “Super League”. However, the position of the international football federation is official and there is no doubt about its intentions to implement its threats. That is, to exclude the athletes of these clubs from the national team tournaments.
“There is no scope for the few to distort the universal and diverse nature of European football,” said Margaritis Schinas (photo), the European Commission vice president. “The European way of life is not compatible with European football being reserved for the rich and the powerful.”
The message is clear: The European Union agrees with the press release of FIFA, although it includes the threat of players’ penalties and exclusions if they have contracts with clubs that will participate in the European “Super League”.
“We must protect our European sports model, which relies on a balance between club and national competitions, and is meant to ensure the development of the game in an open and non-discriminatory way,” said Schinas.
EU’s Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, followed suit. “The European model of sports is important for the future of a united Europe,” the Bulgarian commissioner wrote on Twitter, following a meeting with UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin, followed by a meeting with FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zaglis.
“The role of basketball in the European model of sports is a unique part of the European heritage, promoting autonomy, openness, and solidarity,” wrote Gabriel.
The alignment of the European Union at the political level is clear and reinforces the existing model of professional sport. The Union is directly confronted with the possibility of closed leagues that follow the US model and can be private without necessarily having a connection with the international sports federations.
But what can change in the near future with the Euroleague being a 20-year-old reality in Europe? ULEB’s complaint to the EU which was filed by ULEB’s president Tomas Van de Spiegel against the Euroleague on the 30th of September and the European Commission’s decision on the matter may once again show a willingness to protect national teams, leagues, and federations.
It should be noted that there’s still a gap between EuroLeague and FIBA and the political conditions do not favor the completely closed league model, which has remained for years a draft on paper for European basketball.
“We are determined to protect the existing model of football and the way in which the professional football industry operates to date. All the football federations and professional leagues in Europe follow the FIFA statutes and this will determine our actions to stop this initiative”, said the president of the European Football Leagues, Lars Christer Olson, and ULEB moves share the same logic.
At the same time, however, there is already a legal decision of the European Union against the exclusion from national teams and international federation competitions of athletes participating in a private league. The decision concerns ice skating, but it is an important legal precedent, which will play a role in other sports as well.
The interpretation given by the Euroleague is that this decision is clear support for the private leagues in Europe – and may have played a catalytic role in the decision of the big football clubs to proceed with the plan of their own private organization – while FIBA considers this decision a message against any exclusion, therefore against the closed leagues.
The football case and the developments it triggers are very likely to bring to the table, more seriously than ever on the part of the European Union, the Euroleague-FIBA debate. And that may happen at a time when a “closed” Euroleague does not seem like a very distant scenario and the reactions from the federations, the leagues, and FIBA, are expected to be strong, especially after the attitude by the European Union towards FIFA.