Exclusive: Welsh challenger O’Connor stakes claim for a seat at UEFA’s top table

By Andrew Warshaw 

February 23 – When the previously little-known Aleksander Ceferin gained a stunning victory to win the presidency of UEFA last September, his landslide 42-13 triumph over Michael van Praag was a giant statement for the smaller European federations like his own Slovenia.

Now Wales is staking a claim for a place at the top table of UEFA using the same tactics in a bid to win votes.

Kieran O’Connor’s name may sound more Irish than Welsh but he has been vice president of the Welsh FA for two years and believes the time has come to make a bid to join UEFA’s executive committee which will be revamped in April as 13 candidates vie for eight available places.

O’Connor is perhaps among the least known of the contenders, outside his own country that is. But that’s what they said about Ceferin – and look what happened to him. Having struck a blow for the less heralded nations at Euro 2016 with their rollercoaster ride to the semi-finals, Wales are now giving it a go off the field too.

“If you look at the exco, it comprises people from countries with significant populations,” O’Connor said in an interview with Insideworldfootball. “There is very little representation with populations of less than 10 million but there should be because that covers 35 UEFA members.”

“UEFA is supposed to be a football family, not a football hierarchy. With the exception of the president, the smaller nations have two representatives and we don’t think that’s enough. I’ve spoken to several of the smaller nations and there’s a general agreement with that sentiment.”

Eyebrows might be raised as to why Wales has gone with its vice-president for an exco spot, which is somewhat unusual.
But O’Connor explained: “Firstly our president is 70 and UEFA has a 70 age limit. Secondly, I’m not a great lover of chief executives sitting on the exco. I think they should be looking after their own associations. That’s their job and most of them get paid very well.”

It has not been lost on O’Connor that veteran Cypriot Marios Lefkaritis, one of European football’s longest-serving powerbrokers and one of his rival candidates at April’s exco election, is also 70 yet is standing for re-election – as exclusively reported by Insideworldfootball. “I’ve only just found out about this. It seems a bit odd but I won’t lose any sleep over it,” said O’Connor.

With England’s David Gill also standing for re-election, it seems highly unlikely that UEFA would give the nod to two British candidates when the vote takes place at its Congress in Helsinki in April. Gill is understood to be none too pleased about having to face a contender from a rival British association but O’Connor believes there is room for both on the exco and that, like Ceferin, he can bring something fresh and new to the table.

“UEFA over the last couple of years haven’t done themselves many favours in terms of trust. Look what happened with (Michel) Platini. There’s a new president now but the exco hasn’t changed much. Some of these guys have been there 20 years, that’s too long. I’ve spoken to a lot of federations and there is a feeling the exco does need to change.”

O’Connor believes his experience as qualified chartered accountant gives him a punter’s chance and will shortly be writing to all other 54 UEFA nations with his manifesto.

“We’ll certainly give it our best shot. Football is changing and becoming big business. You need people there with a degree of business sense. One of the things I specialise in is governance and UEFA has been lacking that for many years. It has an image to restore.”

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