UEFA open to Champs League fi­nal beyond Europe

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

The Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal could be con­tested out­side Europe for the first time, new UEFA Pres­i­dent Alek­sander Ce­ferin said yes­ter­day.

Ce­ferin said he will re­vive an open bid­ding process for the right to host the cli­max to the Euro­pean club sea­son and is open to the game be­ing staged in New York.

“I think it might be an idea in fu­ture but we have to speak about it,” Ce­ferin said, high­light­ing how travel times across Europe can be as long as flights to the United States. “To go from Por­tu­gal to Azer­bai­jan for ex­am­ple is al­most the same or the same as if you go to New York. For the fans it’s no prob­lem but we should see. It’s a Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion so let’s think about it.”

UEFA has un­til now been award­ing the honor of stag­ing its show­piece fi­nals without any ten­der­ing process, with sta­dium hosts de­cided in se­cret by the lead­er­ship.

“The bid­ding process should be very clear be­cause if you get the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nals or Europa league fi­nals as a po­lit­i­cal fa­vor then it’s not OK,” Ce­ferin said. “With a clear bid­ding pro­ce­dure I will pro­tect also the ad­min­is­tra­tion and my­self be­cause who­ever tries to call us, to push us, to ask us for such a fa­vor we will have a clear an­swer, ‘Sorry there are clear rules we can­not do it.’”

In his first ma­jor in­ter­view since suc­ceed­ing Michel Pla­tini as UEFA pres­i­dent last month, Ce­ferin dis­played a will­ing­ness to in­no­vate while not dam­ag­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s lu­cra­tive com­pe­ti­tions.

“The Cham­pi­ons League is the best sport­ing prod­uct in the world,” Ce­ferin said.

And the for­mer Slove­nia fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent will not sac­ri­fice the suc­cess of the com­pe­ti­tion by shift­ing kick­off times to pan­der to ex­pand­ing soccer mar­kets in Asia just to sweep up more tele­vi­sion viewers or spon­sors in the re­gion. Most games start at 1845 GMT, when much of Asia is asleep.

“From a fi­nan­cial point of view it’s not ideal,” Ce­ferin said. “We should think also about other mar­kets, but how to do it ex­actly I’m not sure yet. China is fi­nan­cially in­ter­est­ing and the U.S. is not just fi­nan­cially in­ter­est­ing, but foot­ball is grow­ing there.”

Cur­rently only the fi­nal is played on a Satur­day, but one op­tion would be to also move the semi­fi­nals from their cur­rent mid­week slot.

“There are some ideas about that be­cause then China is not asleep be­cause it’s Satur­day and they can watch,” Ce­ferin said. “But there are many prob­lems con­cern­ing that with the cal­en­dar of the leagues. Na­tional leagues are too im­por­tant.

“You have the Pre­mier League which is very strong. It’s an idea that came out (semi­fi­nals at the week­end) but it’s too early to say any­thing con­crete on it.”

While mulling mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the Cham­pi­ons League, Ce­ferin is also in­volved in talks on whether to ex­pand the World Cup. In his first FIFA Coun­cil meet­ing last week since be­com­ing one of the gov­ern­ing body’s vice pres­i­dents, Ce­ferin heard Pres­i­dent Gianni In­fantino pro­pose boost­ing the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.

“We didn’t want to vote on it as it was too early,” Ce­ferin said. “We sim­ply didn’t get any in­for­ma­tion about it. Noth­ing. Just shall we ex­pand or not. We said we can­not say.”

Ce­ferin is await­ing “proper anal­y­sis” on the mer­its of such a sig­nif­i­cant over­haul of the tour­na­ment. He is al­ready cer­tain Europe should gain a fair share of the ad­di­tional 16 places rather than ex­pan­sion be­ing used to cor­rect dis­par­i­ties be­tween how the slots are cur­rently split be­tween the six con­fed­er­a­tions.

Thir­teen teams cur­rently qual­ify for the World Cup from the 55-na­tion UEFA re­gion and Ce­ferin be­lieves that “fans in North Amer­ica and Asia pre­fer to watch our teams.”

“If you put it to a vote (on the num­ber of ad­di­tional UEFA places) we might lose but we are the strong­est con­fed­er­a­tion, no­body should for­get that strong­est in qual­ity and all other as­pects,” Ce­ferin said. “We have the best na­tional teams. So I doubt they will out­vote us.”

Ce­ferin said UEFA “doesn’t want to hurt the other con­fed­er­a­tions” but sees ad­di­tional Euro­pean teams as adding to the qual­ity of the World Cup.

“I know ev­ery­one is afraid of play­ing Europe in the play­offs,” he said. “I can un­der­stand them but if you are afraid of play­ing some­one that team is prob­a­bly bet­ter so that team de­serves to go (to the World Cup).”

UEFA has al­ready ceded ground on the 2026 World Cup, with Ce­ferin ap­prov­ing FIFA block­ing Europe from bid­ding given the 2018 tour­na­ment is in Rus­sia. North Amer­ica is now the fa­vorite to host the event for the first time since the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

“It would re­ally be hard for me to say it would be good it goes to North Amer­ica or Africa,” Ce­ferin said. “But given the in­fra­struc­ture pos­si­bil­i­ties prob­a­bly Africa will have a hard time to place a se­ri­ous bid.”

Ce­ferin is pre­par­ing the first open bid­ding process for the right to host Euro­pean foot­ball’s show­piece fix­ture and is open to it be­ing staged in New York Photo: AP

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