EU leaders scramble as football grabs the brink – POLITICO


Fans, including some elected to high office, on Monday expressed fury and outrage over a new Super League for Europe’s top football clubs – but just don’t ask the European Commission to denounce the elite competition in breakaway.

As anger mounted over the proposal and politicians scrambled to show their loyalty to people who could not afford to sit in luxury lodges, the Commission said it did not ‘immediate intention to challenge the new league for competitive reasons.

While Brussels did little more than proclaim that sport should reflect European values, including “transparent and non-discriminatory rules”, the question of whether the Super League could be stopped seemed to be up to national capitals. Again, it was unclear whether governments would have a legal basis to act, although some leaders were quick to speak harshly.

In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron, a fan of Olympique de Marseille, said the decision – which involved the creation of gold-plated mandates for 15 of the continent’s best clubs – “threatened the principle of sporting merit”. He pledged his support for any measures UEFA may take to fight the new league.

In Rome, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who supports AS Roma, declared that he “fully supports the position of the Italian and European football authorities to preserve the national competences, the meritocracy and the social function of sport”.

And in London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for once, was quickly on the same page as his European counterparts, tweeting that the Super League would be “very damaging”. Spain’s government has also spoken out against the plans and called for a compromise – despite the participation of three of the country’s top teams.

The outrage expressed by most of the leaders echoes the seemingly universal dismay of football fans on the continent, who have reacted with contempt for the Super League and the betrayal they say it represents at the idea of ​​a fair competition. An instant poll by YouGov of 1,730 UK fans found that 79% were against the plan.

The Super League would create an exclusive and permanent grouping of 15 top teams and eliminate the cherished system of promotion and relegation that has long given hard scrabble teams in underprivileged cities at least one theoretical chance of achieving Champions League glory. . The Super League would also have five slots for rotating teams, but the top 15 teams would remain.

In that sense, the idea of ​​the Super League, which is touted by its supporters as a suitable business model for post-pandemic recovery, seemed to mark a new low in the fine game’s long decline in gross profit.

Whether it was a saga or a one-off crisis, the urgency of the current situation was clear.

Stefan Szymanski, economist and author of the book ‘Soccernomics’, said the Super League’s plan to essentially end promotion and relegation – a staple of the European sporting model – was the main reason for the widespread condemnation.

To use a political metaphor, promotion and relegation are the sporting equivalent of parliamentary democracy, giving even small parties a chance to recast a powerful opponent and gain power. Like America’s two-party political system, the Super League promises near-closed competition between the same top fighters year after year.

“Apoplexy is about promotion and relegation – it’s the glue that keeps the system going,” Szymanski said. “Without promotion and relegation, many European clubs will die – so that’s probably not an overreaction.”

UEFA strikes, Brussels backs down

UEFA headquarters’ reaction to the Super League has been unequivocally harsh.

In one busy press conference On Monday afternoon, UEFA President Aleksander ÄŒeferin took aim at separatist league organizers, calling Manchester United’s Ed Woodward and Juventus Andrea Agnelli “snakes” who “spat in the faces of football fans. soccer”.

ÄŒeferin again threatened to ban Super League players from representing their national teams in international competitions, a groundbreaking move that would certainly end in a long legal battle.

Jesper Moller, member of the UEFA executive committee of Denmark, mentionned He expected Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester City this week to be kicked out of this year’s Champions League, where all three clubs reached the semi-finals. Asked to comment, UEFA confirmed that it was exploring “judicial and sporting” measures against participating clubs.

At this point, any regulatory intervention effort from Brussels or national capitals may be too little too late – at least in trying to demonstrate that market capitalism in sport has only now gone too far.

European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas told POLITICO in a statement that he “would personally greatly regret” the creation of a semi-closed Super League. Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, whose portfolio includes sport, tweeted that the Super League would “inflict irreversible damage” and wrote: “We must protect our [EU] #Sport Model based on #cultural heritage, integrity, diversity, #inclusion and solidarity. “

The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli tweeted that he “opposes football becoming the preserve of a wealthy few”, but what Brussels policymakers and European leaders can do to sabotage the Super League is less clear – even if they really do. desire.

Commission spokesperson Sonya Gospodinova went out of her way to assure voters that all of Brussels was focused on the Super League situation.

“We have been following media reports of the creation of this European Super League,” she said. “It interests us as sports aficionados as well.”

But she offered no plan to counter the Super League move or even any specific comment on the proposal. “Sport, including football, is part of the fabric of society. The Commission defends a European model of sport, unique in several respects, the main principles of this model are the principle of autonomy, openness of solidarity and the interdependence of international federations. ”

Super League representatives have not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Fury of the fans

Antoine Duval, a sports law specialist at the Asser Institute in The Hague, said Europe could enter unknown legal territory due to potential sanctions against the Super League.

But as European football faces its most dramatic upheaval in decades, fans across the continent are feeling left behind again.

While the landscape of European football has been altered over the past 30 years by lucrative broadcast deals and the influx of Russian, American and Middle Eastern owners, on one level the sport has preserved the sanctity of the model. European sportsman of promotion, relegation and uncertainty.

The UEFA Champions League, Europe’s premier football competition, remains a meritocracy. Clubs must finish high in their national league to qualify for the tournament. And if they are wrestling domestically, as founding Super League members Manchester United, Arsenal and clubs from Milan have done in recent years, there is no back door to top-level competition.

Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe, accused the breakaway clubs of stabbing supporters in the back and demanded stricter EU regulation of the football industry.

“These big clubs are ready to blow up whatever makes football special,” he said. “Sports merit. Fan culture. The uncertainty. This is why people all over the world follow football. ”

Evain lamented that separatist clubs have rejected the Super League’s proposal at a time when, due to the coronavirus pandemic, fans cannot gather in stadiums to voice their protests. “We have lost our main means of expression,” he said.

Barney Chilton, editor of Manchester United fanzine Red News and club supporter for 45 years, said the Super League move was a ‘seismic’ moment that was ‘heartbreaking’.

But on whether fans trusted the politicians who speak out to protect the national game, Chilton scoffed. “We have been advocating for proper regulation for decades,” he said, “and we have been ignored.”

Paola Tamma, Simon Van Dorpe and Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.


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