UEFA Congress: Al-Khelaifi and Clarke take seats at Europe’s top table

By Andrew Warshaw

February 7 – Calls for UEFA to block the election of Paris Saint Germain supremo Nasser Al Khelaifi to its executive committee fell on deaf ears today when he was duly added to the organisation’s inner sanctum.

Al-Khelaifi had been proposed by the European Club Association (ECA) to be one of its two UEFA executive committee delegates in succession to Ivan Gazidis but had to be approved by the entire UEFA membership at the organisation’s annual congress in Rome.

Al-Khelaifi is also chairman of beIN Sports, the Middle East broadcaster which holds exclusive television rights to major European leagues and international tournaments.

His conduct has been under investigation by Swiss prosecutors since March last year over media rights for the 2026 and 2030 World Cups while an investigation into his club was re-opened by UEFA in 2018 following the staggering sums paid for Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

In his acceptance speech to UEFA delegates on his re-election, Aleksander Ceferin stressed the need to “make football fairer” and to “adapt FFP rules to establish a new European balance.”

But that didn’t stop Al-Khelaifi being elected by acclamation when not a single UEFA federation stood up to object to his election over conflict of interest. Nor did Ceferin himself make any public comment on the decision.

If Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s election was controversial (at least outside the room), rather more straightforward was the election of English FA chairman Greg Clarke for the next four years to take on the FIFA vice-presidency slot reserved for the four English associations.

Clarke, who beat Northern Ireland’s David Martin by 37 to 18 votes, takes over from David Gill for a post which comes with an annual stipend of  $250,000.

After being elected by acclamation followed by a hefty round of applause, Ceferin, little known when he became the most powerful official in European football but who has won considerable praise for his attempts to unify the various factions, warned that the “most dangerous thing we could do is rest on our laurels.”

“In a world of constant and increasingly rapid change, where time seems to go ever faster and every day brings a fresh challenge, we are going to have to do more than simply adapt,” he said. “We are going to have to think ahead and undertake some major developments.

“We must not allow our recent short-term successes to hide the much more complex challenges that lie ahead.”

Ceferin also touched upon the race for the 2030 World Cup which could have as many as four candidates. Balkan governments have discussed a possible joint venture while five-time loser Morocco has been in discussions about a cross-confederation bid with Spain and Portugal.

The most heavily backed bid is likely to come from South America to commemorate the tournament’s centenary and Ceferin has been keen to stress the need for Europe to rally round one contender. “We will do everything possible to bring the 2030 World Cup to our continent,” he said.

Throughout the Congress in Rome, the elephant in the room was the presence of FIFA president Gianni Infantino who, in his own address at the start, once more pitched his plans for a revamped Club World Cup and a global Nations League without offering any further insight.

“We have to be innovative…football is global and has to be developed globally, this is how we do it, by debating, moving forward together, support and collaboration,” said Infantino before adding, “but this is a UEFA Congress.”

His words were met by stern criticism from Ceferin in the Slovenian’s main presidential address though in his post-election speech, he appeared to strike a somewhat more conciliatory tone saying UEFA would be “a source of constructive ideas” to FIFA rather than one in opposition.

Nevertheless, he added tellingly, he “expected the same attitude from FIFA” in return.

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