European Super League: How the game’s wealthy owners scored their own goal

Soon all six English participants in the Super League had followed suit and had left the competition. Barely 48 hours after it was announced, the project was unraveling.

Arsenal went the furthest in recognizing the pivotal role fans played in pressuring the club to withdraw.

“The past few days have shown us yet again how deeply our supporters around the world feel for this great club and the game we love,” began an open letter from the Arsenal board. “We didn’t need to be reminded of this, but the response from supporters over the past few days has given us time for further reflection and deep thought.”

In an effort to make European football more lucrative at the expense of competitive drama – 15 clubs would be immune from relegation in the Super League – the concept took football to a place where the wider sports community did not want it.
Fans protest the European Super League outside Stamford Bridge.

From fans, players, pundits and politicians – not to mention rival clubs and the game’s governing bodies – the reaction to the Super League has been emphatic.

While supporters took to the streets with banners outside stadiums, players on the ground staged their own protests through T-shirts and post-match interviews.

On Tuesday, players from Liverpool, one of the 12 clubs that initially signed up for the exclusive league, took to social media: “We don’t like it and we don’t want it to happen,” was the collective message, even as they enter the Super League. not explicitly mentioned.

Their manager, Jurgen Klopp, had shared his own concerns the day before, while Pep Guardiola, Klopp’s counterpart at Manchester City, protested the way “everyone thinks for themselves” at the top of the game.

Broadcasters, including Amazon and BT, distanced themselves from the Super League, as did some of the game’s leading TV figures: “If it actually happens, I’ll never work on this European Super League,” tweeted BBC and BT presenter. Gary Lineker.

Because the football community was practically unanimous in its disapproval, politicians weighed in.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the sports authorities would receive “full support” from his government to take action against the Super League’s plans, while opposition leader Keir Starmer called the withdrawal of clubs a “turning point” for the game.

The Super League fiasco has shown not only how much power is wielded by the wealthy owners of Europe’s top clubs, but also how football fans and stakeholders can reclaim some of that power.

There has also been resistance from some club owners. Paris Saint-Germain chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi urged football not to forget his fans as he pledged allegiance to UEFA’s European competitions, and Bayern Munich, which defeated PSG last year in the Champions League final, also turned down the Super League.

Bayern and other German clubs have a 50 + 1 ownership rule, which means that members and fans have the majority of the ownership interests, rather than commercial partners.

But what’s gotten sharper is how the game balances the intentions of club owners with the desires of the fans – an ongoing and existential demand for football.

On Monday, the UK government announced a fan-led overhaul of the sport in the wake of the launch of the Super League, which it calls “a fundamental investigation of football in this country.”

“Football needs to take its fans incredibly seriously and act against them at their own risk. I think this is probably a lesson that has been learned and will actually help in the progress of the situation,” British sports minister Nigel Huddleston told Christina Macfarlane. CNN Sport.

Huddleston added that the review will “provide a whole host of recommendations on football governance and also on the flow of money in football. We will see what those recommendations are and hopefully that will help us build a firmer foundation as well.”

One possible outcome of the review could be the introduction of an independent UK professional football regulator.

“It’s been talked about for a few years now, we’re not discounting it,” added Huddleston.

“There are certainly problems with the scope of the responsibilities. I suspect that the idea of ​​a regulator would not suit some football authorities who think they should probably do it themselves.”

“But we’ve seen too many failures and too many problems with English football in recent years.”

The Super League and the issue of ownership at the top of the game have uniquely united and mobilized the football community at large, unlike other issues plaguing the game.

Asked about his views on the Super League earlier this week, Leeds forward Patrick Bamford wondered why the game’s decision-makers are willing to take drastic action when football’s finances are at stake, but not against racism.

West Ham, one of the clubs that missed an opportunity to face the top of Europe with the introduction of the Super League, tweeted on Tuesday that it is time to “ go back to what matters and show together that there is no room for racism. “

The Super League announcement has also sparked racial abuse against club owners on social media, according to Campaign Against Antisemitism, which identified tweets “that appeal to classic tropes of Jewish greed, parasitism and control, as well as references to the Holocaust.”

“No controversy, however great the passions may be, can justify the horrific anti-Semitic abuse that some Twitter users dish out against football clubs and their owners,” said a Campaign Against Antisemitism spokesperson.

When CNN reached out about the anti-Semitic reports, a Twitter spokesperson said, “Keeping people safe on Twitter is a priority for us. We have a clear policy – which applies to everyone, everywhere – that threatens violence, abuse and intimidation and hatefulness. behavior, and we take action when we identify accounts that violate these rules. “

Twitter also said action has been taken against tweets referenced in the report for violating the company’s hateful conduct policy.

The balance of power between Europe’s “big clubs” and the sport’s governing bodies is an issue that will not disappear any time soon, but it is far from the only problem that gets the sport into trouble.

There are countless others that have held up for years, not least the level of investment in the women’s game and the way decisions are made to host leading tournaments such as the World Cup.
For example, last month, international teams took the opportunity to showcase the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar during qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup.

In late 2019, Nasser Al-Khater, general manager of the 2022 World Cup organizing committee in Qatar, told CNN that the nation had been “judged very early by the court of observation.”

“Has Qatar been treated unfairly? Yes, very much in my opinion,” said Al Khater.

But with the tournament just over a year away, last month’s qualifiers are unlikely to be the last time Qatar’s human rights record comes under scrutiny – and if the events surrounding the Super League have taught us anything , it is that the best catalysts for change in football are found in the game itself.