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Rich clubs slammed over elite league

By ANGUS McNEICE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-04-20 09:40
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Banners protesting against the proposed European super league are unfurled in Liverpool, England. CARL RECINE/REUTERS

The United Kingdom's prime minister, Boris Johnson, and Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, have added their voices to condemnation of a plan to launch a $6-billion breakaway soccer super league.

The elite league, which would be backed financially by United States investment bank JP Morgan, would be populated by some of the largest and richest soccer clubs in Europe.

Its proposed establishment, which was announced on Sunday, represents a seismic shift in European soccer; the effects of which are certain to be felt across existing cross-border tournaments, including the Champions League and the Europa League, as well as domestic competitions.

"Plans for a European super league would be very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action," Johnson wrote on Twitter.

So far, six clubs from the United Kingdom-Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur-have signed up to take part. Three clubs from Italy-AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus-have also said they are on board. And three from Spain-Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid-will complete the roster of the super league, as founding members.

Organizers behind the project say an additional three European clubs are set to join, and five additional clubs will qualify to take part in the competition annually, bringing the total number of teams involved each year to 20.

Organizers say the clubs will play midweek fixtures and be able to continue to participate in their domestic leagues.

Macron said he was pleased no French teams had signed up to take part in the league that "threatens the principles of solidarity and sporting merit" because of its exclusivity.

The league has, so far, raised $6 billion in funding with the help of JP Morgan, the AFP news agency reported on Monday.

The founding clubs are being enticed by a share of an initial 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) that is intended to "support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic," the league said in a statement.

The financial support will have been attractive to the big clubs, many of which have accrued large financial losses in recent months. Manchester United borrowed 60 million pounds ($83.6 million) in March, and the club's net debt has soared to 455.5 million pounds amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The executive board of the proposed league includes several owners from participating clubs.

The league could mean teams that are members seize more control of the money that is available in the game, with less revenue generated by big competitions set to be shared out among smaller teams in the way it is currently. The league could also decrease the influence of governing bodies UEFA and FIFA.

"Payments will be substantially higher than those generated by the current European competition," the league organizers said in a statement.

Both UEFA and FIFA have said they will take extreme action to prevent the league from establishing itself, including blocking participating teams and players from taking part in other competitions at the international and domestic level.

Organizers of the proposed league are said to have held a frantic weekend of meetings in order to push through the deal before UEFA's announcement of a new-look Champions League, which was confirmed on Monday. UEFA had hoped that a revamped competition would hold off the formation of the super league, but founding members of the new entity say UEFA's proposals did not go far enough.

The 15 full members of the 20-team super league will not be vulnerable to promotion or relegation, which offers them a stable future.

The breakaway league is understood to be energetically championed by the three Premier League clubs that have US owners-Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United-as well as Juventus and Real Madrid's leadership.

But many soccer fans have taken to social media to express their disapproval of the league, which many say will dilute the quality of domestic soccer and widen the already sizable financial divide between the elite clubs and other teams in Europe's top leagues.

Liverpool supporters' group the Spirit of Shankly said the club's US ownership, Fenway Sports Group, had "ignored fans in their relentless and greedy pursuit of money".

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