Boris Johnson Threatens to Change U.K. Law to Thwart Soccer ‘Cartel’

Boris Johnson threatened to change British law to block the proposed European breakaway soccer league comprising the world’s richest clubs, which include six from England he accused of acting like a “cartel.”

Johnson and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden held a meeting Tuesday with U.K. football authorities and fan groups, at which the prime minister said the government supports all actions necessary to stop the league from proceeding. At a press conference later, he criticized the breakaway clubs and their plan.

“It offends against the basic principles of competition,” Johnson said in Downing Street. “If necessary in order to protect that principle of competition, we will seek -- as I said to those bodies earlier on -- we will seek a legislative solution, but we hope that they can find a way forward themselves.”

The so-called European Super League has triggered widespread condemnation from supporters and politicians, sparking the biggest crisis in European soccer in a generation. Six of the clubs are some of the biggest names in England’s Premier League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

At the heart of the dispute is the Super League plan to operate on a mostly exclusive basis, with slots reserved for 15 teams who can’t be relegated, and places for five more who qualify each season to make a 20-team competition.

‘Kind of Cartel’

Critics say the plan cements an elite hierarchy in European football that won’t be broken because broadcast and other revenue will concentrate on the league.

“Be in no doubt that we don’t support the creation of this European Super League. I think it’s not in the interests of fans, it’s not in the interests of football,” Johnson said. “How can it be right to have a situation in which you create a kind of cartel that stops clubs competing against each other?”

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Dowden said the government would consider its options under competition law, and whether to withdraw support for facilitating matches played by those clubs.

Asked if the government will consider measures such as restricting work permits for overseas players or not providing policing at their games, Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters all options are on the table.

Review

Separately, the government has launched a fan-led review of soccer in Britain, led by former sports minister Tracey Crouch. It will look at the sport’s governance and how fans might be given more control over the game.

Asked whether he favored an ownership model for soccer clubs such as in Germany, where fans have a bigger stake, Johnson said that was a matter for Crouch’s review. “I know she’s very interested in those sorts of models, and what that may or may not involve,” he said.

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