UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has launched an astonishing attack on FIFA’s plans to expand the Club World Cup and start a new biennial international tournament.
Football’s richest confederation and the sport’s global governing body have been at odds privately ever since FIFA president Gianni Infantino first floated his mysterious £18.7 billion ($25bn) plan, but that dispute has now erupted publicly.
Infantino had hoped to call an emergency meeting of the FIFA Council this month to force through his scheme for a 24-team Club World Cup that would take place every fourth summer from 2021 and a rolling Nations League that would culminate in a mini-World Cup every second October.
But fierce opposition from UEFA and the leading European leagues has forced the former UEFA general secretary to shelve his plans until after this summer’s World Cup, with some insiders suggesting Infantino has already ruined his chances of reaching a consensus by trying to present this as a fait accompli.
Premier League boss Richard Scudamore wrote to Infantino to this effect in his role as chairman of the World Leagues Forum in March, saying the FIFA president’s approach “defies all definitions of best practice and good governance.”
And now Ceferin has gone even further in a speech to European Union sports ministers in Brussels that did not name FIFA or Infantino but left nobody in any doubt as to whom he was referring.
The Slovenian said: “As long as I am UEFA president there will be no room for pursuing selfish endeavours or hiding behind false pretences.
“I cannot accept that some people who are blinded by the pursuit of profit are considering to sell the soul of football tournaments to nebulous private funds.
“Money does not rule — and the European sports model must be respected. Football is not for sale. I will not let anyone sacrifice its structures on the altar of a highly cynical and ruthless mercantilism.”
The “nebulous private funds” Ceferin refers to is one of the main bones of contention between European football and Infantino, who has said he cannot disclose the identity of the investors behind the Club World Cup and Nations League plan as he has signed a non-disclosure agreement with them.
But not only has he refused to reveal more information about where this money is coming from, he originally told world football leaders that he needed an answer before Russia 2018 or the deal was off.
Press Association Sport sources say that Japanese-based technology fund SoftBank is part of the consortium but most of the money is from Saudi Arabia.
Its motives are unclear but conspiracy theorists have already speculated that it is linked to the country’s bitter dispute with neighbouring Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup.
UEFA is so opposed to Infantino’s plan because a 24-team Club World Cup, with 12 of the teams from Europe, would inevitably dilute the Champions League’s status as club football’s premium product, while the FIFA Nations League is a copy of its tournament scheduled to start later this year.
UEFA, the leading European leagues and the top clubs are also working with the players’ associations to try to reduce the amount of football the top players play, not increase it. And Ceferin himself is particularly concerned about European football’s diminishing competitive balance, so any idea that promises the top clubs more money will automatically worry him.
He called for help from European lawmakers, which could mean soccer seeking exemptions from commercial laws which protect free trade and movement of workers across the bloc of 28 member states.
“Please help us to put an ambitious initiative on track for the overall well-being of sport,” Ceferin said.