By Andrew Warshaw in Paris
February 8 – The threat of a revived European Super League and tackling the resurgence of racism – two of the main pressing issues across the European football landscape – dominated UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin’s address to delegates at the UEFA Congress today.
But significantly there was an almost unanimous vote in favour of a string of amendments to the UEFA statutes, one of which in particular has hit the headlines in recent weeks.
Almost unanimous being the operative words.
Three countries – understood to be England, Iceland and Norway – voted against taking a plethora of amendments as one entity, with Ukraine and one other unnamed country abstaining.
The rebels wanted a separate discussion on a specific amendment that would have the effect of letting Ceferin stay in office longer than the current rules permit, possibly until 2031.
The 12-year term limit at UEFA was personally brought in by Ceferin as an anti-corruption move in the fallout from the FifaGate scandal.
The new amendment would mean any appointment before 2017 would not be counted as part of the allowable three terms because he took charge during Michel Platini’s four-year term.
Critics said that was unconstitutional but there is also an opposite view, one that says not allowing Ceferin to take a third term is actually making the process undemocratic and removing a potentially popular candidate from the field.
The English FA then voted against accepting the statutes themselves but in the end it mattered little as the entire package went through.
In his address, Ceferin again attacked the concept of a Super League saying that in the 70 years since it was founded, UEFA had become “a shining example of European unity.”
“European football’s strength lies in this acute sense of belonging, this adherence to a clear, simple, powerful model based on common values,” said Ceferin.
“From Portugal to Kazakhstan, from Cyprus to the Faroe Islands, from Finland to Italy, there are no giants or minnows here, no haves or have-nots. Because of our system.”
“We are humble enough to put this indisputable success down to our unique model, a model based on solidarity, a model based on investment, unity, sporting merit, promotion and relegation.”
Even though the European Court of Justice recently ruled that FIFA and UEFA broke EU competition rules by attempting to block the seemingly doomed breakaway Super League, Ceferin did not mince his words.
Clearly referring specifically to the spectre of a revived Super League, Ceferin went on: “Right now, some people are trying to trample on 70 years of history.
“They are trying to change this European model of football, despite its success. They are claiming to be saviours of football while in reality they are trying to dig its grave. They are playing the victim when really they are nothing else but predators. They are confusing monopoly with unity. They are confusing handouts and solidarity.
“They speak about free markets a lot, but they don’t know anything about free speech.”
“Some people think that anything can be bought. Everything is for sale. We are all consumers and nothing else. This is one perspective on life. But it is not ours. It will never be ours. Today, a few individuals are trying to divide us in the name of the free market, driven by an insatiable desire to generate ever-increasing profits for the privileged few.”
Turning to racism, Ceferin declared: “Sadly, no story is perfect and European football has also been through some dark times. Violence and all kinds of discrimination are a reality in football. To say otherwise would be a lie. It is a sad reality, and it has been for decades.
“Football should be a vehicle for unity, for inclusion, for friendship. I will take this opportunity to express my full support for all those players, coaches, referees and officials who have suffered abuse in our stadiums or on social media. Those who discredit our sport in this way think they are strong and superior, but the fact is they are nothing but cowards. Cowards who often hide behind the anonymity of their apartments and their screen. “
The attack on racism was also addressed by FIFA president Gianni Infantino who called on all FIFA’s entire membership to tackle it head on.
With FIFA’s three-step process seemingly not working as well as it might, Infantino told Uefa’s 55 member countries: “In last few weeks and months there have unfortunately been a lot of racist incidents and we have to stop this. Racism is a crime. What I suggest is that we work all together in next three months before the FIFA congress in Bangkok and we come all together in a string resolution in the fight against racism.”
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org