UEFA: Changes in the air despite opposition in some quarters

By Jonathan Copping, Sports Lawyer, Bolt Burdon Law Firm, London, United Kingdom

In a wide-ranging speech at the 41st UEFA Congress held on 5 April 2017 in Helsinki, Finland, UEFA President, Aleksander Ceferin, reiterated UEFA’s position to work with Europe’s leagues, clubs and players.

UEFA’s relationship with a number of stakeholders has been strained recently. Only three weeks ago, the European Professional Football Leagues (“EPFL”) scrapped the memorandum of understanding it had with UEFA that prevented domestic games being scheduled on the same evenings as Champions’ League games.

It is thought that the EPFL did so in reaction to UEFA’s reforms to the Champions’ League, which will see four teams from England, Germany, Italy and Spain be guaranteed places in the group stages from 2018 to 2021, at the expense of teams from lower ranked European leagues.

Additionally, Ceferin has recently stated that he wants to introduce reforms that address the competitive balance within European football, including limiting squad sizes to stop player hoarding.

Whilst not expressly stating UEFA’s proposed reforms, Ceferin stated at the Congress:

Together, we will develop a strategic vision for European Football. We will initiate discussions very soon, so that together we can start designing the football of tomorrow. It is your ideas, projects, hopes and aspirations, and those of your clubs, players and supporters that will be at the heart of this vision”.

In terms of the changes that Ceferin announced, UEFA would be allocating an additional €1 million solidarity payment to each member association in response to healthy financial results from competitions including UEFA Euro 2016, and he stated:

UEFA is not here to accumulate wealth, while [associations] struggle to develop football in the furthest reaches of [their] territories”.

The allocation of the solidarity payment is particularly good news for UEFA member associations. At a time when the Champions’ League, Europa League and the European Championships are generating mega sums for UEFA, it is important that the money is given back to the member associations so that football can continue to be developed and accessible for as many people as possible.

Separately, it has been announced that there will now be a maximum of three four-year terms for UEFA’s president and executive committee members.

It is clear that Ceferin is trying to balance the interests of all the stakeholders; however, that will, no doubt, not prove to be an easy task, taking into account the conflicting interests of the stakeholders. That is probably one of the reasons why he did not go into too much detail regarding any reforms and changes that UEFA may make in the near future.

It will be interesting to watch the UEFA President’s next steps as he tries to bring about his changes to make European football more competitively balanced. A very worthy sporting aim indeed and one that deserves to succeed!

 

Jonathan Copping can be contacted by e-mail at ‘JonathanCopping@boltburdon.co.uk’