By Andrew Warshaw
November 20 – Without mentioning Gianni Infantino by name, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin today issued a veiled attack on what he described as “secret” deals orchestrated by his opposite number at FIFA as the row over an alleged plan to sell off FIFA’s World Cup rights as part of a $25 billion deal with a consortium linked to Saudi Arabia escalated.
Infantino has been reluctant to divulge details of his pet project while FIFA has consistently downplayed reports that a large part of the money is coming from Saudi Arabia. But unconfirmed reports claim the deal could include of all FIFA’s competition rights, including the World Cup.
“We share the opinion that football is not for sale,” Ceferin told reporters at a news conference in Brussels following a meeting with the European Commissioner for Sport at which he was joined by European Club Association boss Andrea Agnelli.
“We share the opinion that we have to develop football not just generate revenues. We share the opinion that we cannot just sell any competition to any financial entity on a European or global level. We are not the owners of football.”
Re-emphasising that UEFA still had no information about proposed investors for a new global Nations League and a revamped Club World Cup, Ceferin compared Infantino’s strategy to recent leaks of alleged underhand private discussions among Europe’s elite clubs over forming a breakaway Super league.
Although it has not been confirmed, Infantino’s idea is apparently that an international consortium would invest in the Nations League and the Club World Cup for the period 2021 to 2033, nominally run by FIFA which would have a 51% stake in the joint venture.
But Ceferin declared: “Do you see any difference between a private Super League and a competition that is completely secret and which is 49 percent sold to a private fund and started by secret talks only with a few big clubs? Where is the difference between a Super League and a competition like that?”
“I’m not saying FIFA should not organise the Club World Cup. They are organising it now. There is always room for improvement…but not in this direction. This kind of competition is the road to a super league if it is not one in itself.”
Ceferin said it was wrong to suggest his relationship with Infantino had broken down but added: “I was not elected to create relationships. I was elected to protect and develop European football.
“This is much more than a FIFA competition with which we don’t agree. It’s important that fans who, after the players, are the most important part of football understand that times of secret deals and discussions behind closed doors have ended, at least in European football.”
Agnelli said of Infantino’s proposed $25 billion deal: “That’s all we’ve learned about it, and that from the media. Sure the current format of the Club World Cup is not great ….and can be revised. But it is difficult to discuss what has been proposed …because we haven’t seen a single project on Club World Cup or global Nations League.”
The press conference followed the announcement of a ground-breaking letter of intent signed by UEFA and the ECA which it is hoped will bring unity to the two most influential factions in European football and which was presented to European Union Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics.
“This meeting marks the first time a major sports governing body and its leading stakeholder have met together with an EU leader in Brussels at their own request,” said a UEFA statement, stressing the need to “ensure the sustainable development of European football” and to “tackle the challenges that professional football faces.”
Čeferin said of the agreement: “This letter of intent shows that we are taking our cooperation with ECA to the next level on a wide range of matters, and in the spirit of a genuine and sustainable partnership.
“We have a strong and common voice when it comes to shaping the game for future generations, and we are pleased that the EU Commissioner supports our common desire to address together the major issues that football is facing in the imminent future.”
Agnelli added: “Today marks an important milestone in the relationship between ECA and UEFA. Building on the work of the last years, with the signing of the letter of intent, we acknowledge that future challenges can only be met through a collaborative and constructive engagement between our two organisations. It is in this spirit that we can ensure that European football continues to develop and thrive in the years ahead. This is the message we are bringing with us to Brussels today and delivering to the European Commission, which we see as a partner in our mission.”
In his own statement Navracsics said: “It is good to see that UEFA and ECA have signed a letter of intent outlining their intention to work together in tackling the major challenges facing football. I am convinced that a successful partnership in the spirit of good governance will benefit not only European football, but also our society as a whole. The European sport model and the sustainability of the game can only be preserved through a collaborative and engaged approach.”
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