Elite European soccer clubs announced Sunday that they are forming an exclusive Super League. In anticipation of the news, major soccer bodies and European leaders came out in opposition to the plan, which could badly damage the lucrative Champions League tournament.

A dozen clubs have agreed to become founding members of the league, including much of the cream of English, Italian and Spanish soccer: AC Milan, Arsenal, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur.

Fifteen clubs are expected to become permanent members of the league, per the shared announcement, with five more rotating through after achieving qualifying benchmarks. A corresponding women’s league is planned “as soon as practicable” after the men’s competition begins.

Citing the “instability” caused by the coronavirus pandemic on the “existing European football economic model,” the clubs made the case that their plan will be good for the game overall.

“The new annual tournament will provide significantly greater economic growth and support for European football via a long-term commitment to uncapped solidarity payments which will grow in line with league revenues,” the announcement stated.

UEFA, the European soccer governing body that stages the Champions League, issued a statement earlier Sunday that said it and national leagues will remain “united in our efforts to stop this cynical project.”

Describing the Super League as “a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever,” UEFA said it will consider all measures, including potentially going to court, to prevent its implementation. UEFA cited a declaration from FIFA in January, when details of the proposed Super League began to emerge, in threatening that the clubs involved could be shut out from other competitions and their players might be barred from participating in the World Cup and other international tournaments.

UEFA also made a point of thanking French and German clubs it said “refused to sign up” for the tournament, which would otherwise deprive the Champions League of many of its most widely supported teams. Those countries were well represented in last year’s Champions League final, in which Bayern Munich defeated Paris Saint-Germain. The 12 clubs announced thus far for the Super League have won the Champions League a combined 40 times since its inception in 1955.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday (via Reuters) that he “welcomes the position of French clubs to refuse to participate to a European football Super League project that threatens the principle of solidarity and sporting merit.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter that the new league would be “very damaging for football and we support football authorities in taking action.” It would “strike at the heart of the domestic game, and will concern fans across the country,” he added.

The Premier League agreed, stating Sunday that it “condemns any proposal that attacks the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are at the heart of the domestic and European football pyramid.”

The Champions League model allows almost any European club, at least in theory, to play its way into the annual tournament’s 32-team group stage. The Super League, by contrast, would have a smaller, much more fixed group of participants, who could then expect to profit more greatly and regularly from the venture.

The clubs involved in Sunday’s announcement said that their solidarity payments, which go to clubs that are involved in a given player’s early development, will be “substantially higher than those generated by the current European competition and are expected to be in excess of 10 billion [euros] during the course of the initial commitment period of the Clubs.” Each founding club would receive 3.5 billion euros, or approximately $4.2 billion, “solely to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic.”

Multiple reports claim that U.S.-based investment bank JPMorgan Chase is set to be a major financial backer of the Super League venture.

“By bringing together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season, the Super League will open a new chapter for European football, ensuring world-class competition and facilities, and increased financial support for the wider football pyramid,” said Manchester United co-chairman Joel Glazer, whose Florida-based family also owns the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arsenal and Liverpool also have American ownership.

“Our 12 Founder clubs represent billions of fans across the globe and 99 European trophies,” said Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, who is serving as vice chairman of the Super League. “We have come together at this critical moment, enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future, substantially increasing solidarity, and giving fans and amateur players a regular flow of headline fixtures that will feed their passion for the game while providing them with engaging role models.”

Agnelli was also the chairman of the European Club Association, but he has reportedly resigned, with Juventus pulling out of the organization. The ECA stated Sunday that it “strongly opposed” the Super League’s “closed” model and would continue to work with UEFA on reworking European soccer competitions. One change could be eventually changing the Champions League to a single, 36-team field, as opposed to its current division into eight groups of four, a proposal reportedly set for final approval Monday by UEFA’s executive committee.

England’s Football Association noted Sunday that any new tournament involving clubs from different associations would need to be approved by national bodies, confederations or FIFA.

“We would not provide permission to any competition that would be damaging to English football,” the FA said, “and will take any legal and/or regulatory action necessary to protect the broader interests of the game.”

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