Soccer

FIFA threatens World Cup, Champions League bans to squash potential breakaway super league

Plans by Europe's richest soccer clubs to launch a new competition worth nearly $5 billion annually jolted FIFA and Champions League organizer UEFA into warning players on Thursday that they would be banned from the World Cup if they take part in such a breakaway league.

Joins confederations in warning players to avoid proposed European competition

FIFA and all six continental confederations issued a joint statement on Thursday saying they would not endorse a new so-called European Super League, and that players who participate could be banned from major competitions, including the World Cup. (Francois-Xavier Marit/Getty Images)

Plans by Europe's richest soccer clubs to launch a new competition worth nearly $5 billion US annually jolted FIFA and Champions League organizer UEFA into warning players on Thursday that they would be banned from the World Cup if they take part in such a breakaway league.

FIFA and all six continental confederations issued a statement saying they would not endorse a new so-called European Super League, and that players who participate in such a competition would be banned from playing in major international tournaments — such as the World Cup or continental championships.

The statement was a clear response to proposals that are circulating in European soccer, and which have been seen by The Associated Press, for the creation of a 20-team annual competition that would include 15 top clubs as permanent members. The five other teams would vary each season, although the qualification method has not been determined.

Each of the 15 founding members would get a share of at least $4.2 billion in initial infrastructure grants. The money would be split among four tiers of clubs, with the top six each getting $420 million.

Larger share of the pie

The Times of London, which first reported on the details of the proposal, identified Real Madrid, Manchester United and Liverpool as being among the driving forces for the proposal. The competition would begin with two groups of 10 teams, with the top four from each group advancing to the quarter-finals. That would guarantee every team between 18 and 23 annual Super League matches, compared to a minimum of six games in the Champions League group stage.

The games — apart from the final — would be played in midweek like the current Champions League, allowing them to still play in domestic competitions.

Real Madrid and Barcelona were linked last year with planning a breakaway competition inviting famous clubs to enter and increase their own wealth from global broadcasting deals by playing each other more often.

Outgoing Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said in October a Super League plan had been "put forward by the biggest clubs in Europe."

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin denounced a "selfish and egotistical scheme" after Madrid president Florentino Perez was reportedly seeking financiers to back the project.

This latest Super League proposal hopes to generate $4.86 billion US annually from broadcasters. In comparison, UEFA most recently reported making a combined 3.25 billion euros from selling the rights to the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup.

The 15 founding clubs of the new competition would take the greatest slice of the broadcasting revenue.

Madrid and Perez were previously linked in 2018 to preparing an invitational breakaway league. That project was revealed in leaks of hacked clubs documents to German magazine Der Spiegel.

'Deeper reforms'

The influential European Club Association, whose vice chairman is Real Madrid official Pedro Lopez, has a working agreement with UEFA for its members to play in European club competitions and co-operate to develop them "in a strategic and holistic perspective." The working deal expires in July 2024.

Asked for comment Thursday, the ECA said it was working with UEFA on "deeper reforms" in competitions and financial regulations to take account of the coronavirus pandemic's effect on the soccer industry.

The FIFPRO group of players' unions declined comment on a potential threat to its members' right to play in recognized national team competitions.

The 30-nation European Leagues group said Thursday that breakaway plans were "for a limited number of clubs similar to those franchise models operating in North America."

FIFA and UEFA reaffirmed Thursday the importance of promotion and relegation giving access to all clubs as a key principle of soccer.

"Participation in global and continental competitions should always be won on the pitch," the FIFA-led statement said.

UEFA is expected to announce proposals in the coming weeks for modifying its club competitions' entry paths and playing formats taking effect in 2024.

The group stage of the Champions League is likely to be changed to give clubs who qualify 10 guaranteed games instead of the current six.

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