January 26, 2021

FIFA's Firm Stance on Breakaway Super League Event

The speculative creation of a European Super League football tournament is old news; the idea behind the new continental competition has been doing the rounds since the 1980s. However, in the last two years, the noise it has generated has intensified as the scheme's financial backing has become more evident. On top of that, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, which saw many European clubs suffering financially, has deepened the resolve of some to join the breakaway organisation that promises to be a lucrative proposition. In light of the increasing clamour the idea is generating, FIFA and the six the associated continental confederations, recently released a statement unequivocally outlining their position on the matter, saying:  

"In light of recent media speculation about the creation of a closed European 'Super League' by some European clubs, FIFA and the six confederations (AFC, CAF, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, OFC and UEFA) once again would like to reiterate and strongly emphasise that such a competition would not be recognised by either FIFA or the respective confederation.

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 their respective confederation."

The main takeaway from the statement is that any player involved in the European Super League would be banned from international football. They would forfeit their right to represent their country in the World Cup or World Cup qualifiers, or continental tournaments like the UEFA Nations League, European Championship, Copa America, and CONCACAF Gold Cup.

What is the European Super League?

The proposed Super League is a tournament, similar to the UEFA Champions League (and a direct competitor if it goes ahead), featuring Europe's traditional footballing powerhouses in a partially closed and privately financed competition.

The new league proposes a rumoured 20 teams contesting the competition with guaranteed places for the founding clubs, for up to twenty years. Only a small number of teams will be subject to annual promotion and relegation - these would be decided via a secondary competition. Therefore, the tournament would ensure that top tier teams are pitted against each other on a more frequent basis than current European competitions allow. It would also remove the need for football's giants to compete against lower-ranked clubs on their way to the finals.

With Europe's titans facing off more often, the financial gains through broadcasting rights and sponsorships would be phenomenal. In addition to the deals agreed between the league's financiers and the clubs involved - to join the group and for each competition they compete in - the set-up would undoubtedly be very lucrative. 

However, as profitable as the new tournament would be for Europe's top squads, and aside from the benefits to fans who will see their heroes clash more regularly, the proposed league faces substantial opposition...

Super League Opposition

FIFA and the six international confederations, as well as national football associations and a large proportion of European fans, are opposed to the creation of a Super League. Many feel that it goes against the ethos of the edicts outlined by the football establishment. As the recently released statement by FIFA and the confederations succinctly pointed out:

“The universal principles of sporting merit, solidarity, promotion and relegation, and subsidiarity are the foundation of the football pyramid that ensures football's global success and are, as such, enshrined in the FIFA and confederation statutes. 

Football has a long and successful history thanks to these principles. Participation in global and continental competitions should always be won on the pitch.”

The worry is that closed or partially closed tournaments remove the necessity for clubs to win their place in a competition, and eliminate lower-ranked clubs' opportunity to compete and earn their stripes against the top tier squads. And, while watching the titans of football clash more often has plenty of merits, so does the excitement and unpredictability of watching clubs of all ranks battle it out on the pitch. Which is why the UEFA Champions League is so popular - there is a chance of seeing relative minnows outperform and go head to head with some of football's giants, which can lead to some surprise eliminations.  Who can forget Germany's RB Leipzig thrashing one of Europe's biggest teams, Atletico Madrid in the 2019-20 edition. What could be more exciting than that? However, if the Super League does finally reach inception, the loss of the biggest clubs would severely diminish the UEFA competition, its fan base and, of course, the income the tournament currently generates. If the current European tournament folds or as focus shifts to the more lucrative breakaway competitions, the knock-on effect on domestic leagues would also be substantial.

Money is a significant factor driving opposition against the Super League. The biggest names in European football exert a greater draw for broadcasters and sponsors. That draw garners inordinate financial benefits, as well as other advantages such as prime time match slots in an already crowded fixture calendar - generating more revenue and providing greater access to fan bases. Domestic cup competitions would feel the negative impacts as they lose broadcasting incomes, sponsors and primetime match slots to a new league. As the proposed Super League is a privately financed concern, the big bucks would be shared between the participating clubs affording them better players, managers, equipment, facilities and opportunities. The disparity between elite clubs and lower league clubs will only widen as a result, undermining domestic competitions. 

Additionally, unlike recognised leagues subject to football's governing bodies' statutes, the new league would not be subject to financially supporting lower league clubs and grassroots football. Equally, the Super League would most likely divert the financial resources currently available away from other leagues, and so away from the recipients who need it the most to survive or develop football and assist local communities. The Super League, in short, threatens the financial balance of European football from the top down.

FIFA and UEFA’s Response

Both FIFA and the European football confederation, UEFA, though opposed to the Super League, are not adverse to change. The governing organisations recognise the need to move with the times and changing circumstances. UEFA has reformed its club competitions before to accommodate club needs and demands.

Looking to the future UEFA are reportedly considering radical changes to the Champions League tournament for the 2024/25 season. The changes include increasing the number of teams involved from thirty-two to thirty-six to provide more qualification berths open to lesser league clubs. Also, modifying the group stages to allow more clashes between leading clubs, increasing broadcasting revenues and satisfying the wealthiest clubs' apparent itch. 

FIFA meanwhile are backing expansion plans for the Club World Cup from the current seven teams to twenty-four. The competition will provide more opportunities for super clubs, worldwide, to meet on the pitch.

Whether the changes to recognised club competitions will be enough to silence plans for a Super League remains to be seen. However, the statement from the governing football bodies made their stance on the matter of non-recognised competitions abundantly clear:

“As per the FIFA and confederations statutes, 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. 

In this respect, the confederations recognise the FIFA Club World Cup, in its current and new format, as the only worldwide club competition while FIFA recognises the club competitions organised by the confederations as the only club continental competitions.”

Published: January 26, 2021
Last updated: January 26, 2021
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