U.K. Draws Up Plans to Stop Breakaway European Soccer League
The Puma logo sits on a football at a soccer apparel display in Germany. (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

U.K. Draws Up Plans to Stop Breakaway European Soccer League

The U.K. said it will do “whatever it takes” to stop the creation of a European breakaway soccer league comprising the world’s richest clubs, warning the plan threatens all parts of the “national game.”

“We will put everything on the table to prevent this from happening,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said in the House of Commons on Monday. “We will not stand by and watch football be cravenly stripped of the things that make millions across the country love it.”

Dowden said the U.K. will back actions taken by soccer authorities including sanctions to stop the European Super League going ahead, while ministers are not ruling out legislative action if the measures don’t work. The government will look at its options under competition laws, and whether it should continue the support it gives to clubs to facilitate matches, he said.

“This is of course for the football authorities to handle first,” Dowden told Parliament. The FA and UEFA are “rightly considering a wide range of sanctions and measures to stop this move in its tracks,” he said.

The breakaway proposal, which would mark the sport’s biggest overhaul in decades in Europe and make elite teams wealthier, has been roundly criticized by fans -- including of the clubs involved. There was intense pressure on Boris Johnson’s government to intervene, especially after his Conservative Party promised a “fan-led review” of soccer governance in its 2019 manifesto.

That process will now begin, Dowden said, noting that he had planned to start the review once soccer was back to normal after the pandemic but that developments had forced his hand. Led by former sports minister Tracey Crouch, it will look at the finances and governance of soccer and how fans can have a greater say in the oversight of games.

‘Fit and Proper’

Crouch will also look at the Premier League’s “fit and proper person” test it applies to prospective owners, Dowden said. Six of the founder clubs of the new league are from the top tier of English soccer: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

Dowden said he will talk to his French counterpart this week and is also seeking meetings with the Spanish and Italian government to discuss ways to tackle the Super League proposal.

He also tried to allay fears the review would take too long, and that the government would fail to act in time. “We will take robust action when it is required,” he told members of Parliament.

Condemnation

The breakaway plan was criticized by MPs from across the political spectrum. Many criticized the closed shop element of the plan, which emulates the top sports leagues in the U.S. which operate without relegation or promotion between levels each season.

“This is a U.S. import we don’t want,” said Lucy Powell, business spokeswoman for the main opposition Labour Party.

Earlier, Johnson told broadcasters the plan threatens to sever the strong link between clubs and their local communities.

“I don’t think it’s good news for football in this country,” Johnson told broadcasters while on a trip to Gloucestershire Monday. “I don’t like the look of these proposals, and we’ll be consulted about what we can do.”

Power Grab

His government has clashed before with the wealthiest Premier League clubs and their plans to overhaul the sport’s governance and finance models. Last year, Dowden criticized the terms of a proposed bailout of lower divisions during the pandemic, calling it a power grab.

The breakaway league comes at a sensitive time for soccer clubs across the U.K., which are facing a shortfall in revenue because fans have been barred from attending matches under coronavirus restrictions.

“The Super League proposal is the sporting equivalent of a billionaires’ gated community with a football favela for everybody else on the other side of the fence,” Labour MP Kevin Brennan said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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