AMSTERDAM (AP) — Asserting the power of European soccer, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin warned that FIFA’s attempts to radically change several club competitions would be a “death sentence” for football.
With FIFA President Gianni Infantino in the audience, Čeferin told the UEFA congress on Tuesday he was not “ashamed” European soccer was so successful.
FIFA has tried to gain a greater foothold in the club game, with Infantino trying to raise finances to attract the biggest names to an enlarged 24-team Club World Cup, which could threaten UEFA’s popular Champions League competition. Plans for a global clubs’ league from Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez also emerged after he met with Infantino in December.
Čeferin said it was an “inalienable right” for UEFA and other confederations to organize their own competitions.
“The principles of solidarity, of promotion, relegation and open leagues are also non-negotiable,” Čeferin said. “Our principles, history, tradition and structure have enabled football to dominate other sports and enabled European football to dominate the rest of the world. Calling them into question would be a death sentence for our sport.”
The future format of the Champions League is also being debated with opposition growing in the last year to a concept to turn Europe’s elite competition into a largely closed one.
“If our success enables us to defend with strength, conviction and legitimacy the European sport model, based on promotion and relegation and the principle of solidarity, we can be proud,” Čeferin said in Amsterdam. “If our success enables us to ward off threats that appear on the horizon, we can be proud. These threats are alarming and we need to anticipate the worst if we are to prevent it.
“When purpose over profit becomes profit over purpose, it is time to raise the alarm. Football is not simply a business like any other. It has a history, tradition and structure that must be respected. “
Čeferin tried to distance himself from dramatic attempts to transform the soccer landscape in a speech to officials from the 55 UEFA member nations and leaders from other confederations.
“No football administrator, no matter the size of ego, should think we are the stars of the game. Because we are not,” Čeferin said, without naming anyone. “We are the guardians of a legacy. We are guardians, here to protect the game, its players and its history.”
After what appeared like criticism of Infantino’s strategy at FIFA by Čeferin, the world body used its Twitter account to link to its president’s speech by stating he “stressed the need for cooperation” over determining the future of football.
FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY
Čeferin was tight-lipped at the congress on Manchester City being banned from European competitions for two seasons for “serious breaches” of Financial Fair Play rules by overstating sponsorship revenue in its accounts and break-even information.
With Abu Dhabi-owned City appealing against the punishment, Čeferin said he had to “respect the system” but suggested there could be future changes to the rules that restrict the spending by clubs, regardless of their owners’ wealth.
“It’s too early to say how it will look like in the future,” Čeferin said. “But we are thinking about it and we probably will have to adapt it. It was very successful as a system … and now we will probably have to adapt to different times. But it’s again, too early to share it with the public. Our experts are discussing it and it will not happen very soon.”
Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the president of Paris Saint-Germain who also runs Doha-based broadcaster beIN, took part in the two-day UEFA meeting as an executive committee member despite being indicted recently as part of a five-year Swiss corruption investigation linked to FIFA World Cup television rights.
“The charges of bribery are off,” Čeferin said. “On the other charge, we have presumption of innocence as a very important thing. We are awaiting how things develop.”
Al-Khelaifi, who denies wrongdoing, was charged with inciting then-FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke “to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement.” Al-Khelaifi was accused of allowing Valcke to use a luxury villa on the Italian island of Sardinia rent free in 2014 and 2015. At the time, Valcke had some influence over FIFA broadcast deals, including an extension of beIN’s Middle East rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.
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