Ryan Macready, corporate lawyer and sports law specialist at Gilson Gray, comments on the potential legal advantage the breakaway clubs have in response to the suggestion that players in the European Super League (ESL) should be banned from UEFA competitions, referencing the recent case involving the International Skating Union (ISU).
Macready said: “UEFA and the relevant National Associations may face problems. Sports law enthusiasts will remember the recent ISU case brought before the European Commission and the General Court of the European Union which was finally decided in December 2020. The case centred around two Dutch speed skaters, Mark Tuitert and Niels Kerstholt, who competed in financially lucrative skating events that were not approved by the ISU. The ISU sought to sanction the skaters for taking part in these events, banning them from competing in future ISU tournaments. Both skaters successfully challenged their bans.
“The European Commission ruled in 2017 that banning sportsmen and women for competing in an “unsanctioned” event was a violation of EU competition law. The ISU appealed, but the decision as it related to the sanctions was upheld in December 2020. Accordingly, the sanctions were deemed to be anti-competitive and void, meaning Tuitert and Kerstholt were free to skate in future ISU competitions.
“There are obvious parallels between this case and the ESL. There is a threat that football players could be banned from UEFA competitions. The ISU case suggests that such a ban could be challenged.
“Of course, this is not 100% clear. The ISU case was about individuals, not clubs. However, I would be surprised if the ESL founding clubs and their legal teams didn’t follow the ISU case with an eager eye. Given the commercial importance of the top players in creating commercial and sporting success for the ESL, the threat of being banned from playing in the European Championships or World Cups might have made top players think twice about joining. The ISU case suggests – at least – this is a grey area and that any sanctions imposed by UEFA or National Associations might be open to challenge. ”
Ryan Macready is a solicitor in Gilson Gray’s corporate team. The firm has advised on a number of high-profile sports cases, including acting for a number of individual SPFL clubs, the St Mirren Fans’ Association in their fan-led buy-out, and various agency transactions.
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