A Madrid court has referred the ESL's competition law challenge directly to Europe's highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The remaining three ESL clubs are seeking to keep alive the breakaway league by bringing a legal claim alleging that UEFA and FIFA abused their dominant position as football regulators. The alleged anti-competitive behaviour is their attempt to prohibit the launch of an alternative competition to those sanction by UEFA. This, the ESL claims, is an unfair restriction on their right to participate in competitions of their choosing.
EU competition law is applicable to sporting rules if they impact on commerce and trade and are not simply the "rules of the game". Specifically, commercial arrangements between clubs, or rules imposed by a governing body, restricting the activities of clubs or their players are fully within the ambit of EU competition laws. EU competition law prohibits anti-competition agreements and practices, and also the abuse of a dominant market position.
A sole regulator for a professional sport is likely to enjoy a dominant market positon. Their decisions will be likely to have an impact on competition, and may be regarded as abusive if there is no objective justification for them.
Many sports governing bodies impose forms of exclusivity in their rules to prevent clubs or individuals participating in any leagues or tournaments beyond the ones they officially sanction. The European General Court in December 2020 upheld a Commission finding that the rules of the International Skating Union (ISU) (which prevented skaters participating in ISU events if they had previously competed in "unauthorised" events) to be an unlawful abuse of dominance. The ISU is appealing this case to the Court of Justice of the EU, but for now, the General Court case provides the three ESL clubs with a strong and recent precedent to support their argument that UEFA rules and threats of sanctions are incompatible with EU competition law.