KIEV, Ukraine — UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin says FIFA would have created problems of “transparency” and “good governance” by accepting a $25 billion offer from a yet-to-be-identified consortium of investors to organise two new tournaments — a revamped 24-team Club World Cup and a Global Nations League.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino had championed the proposal at the FIFA Council meeting in Bogota, Colombia, in March, but said he was not at liberty to disclose who was behind it, nor did he reveal details of what it entailed. FIFA, he said, had been given 60 days to provide an answer.
“You can’t even call it a proposal; it was one sentence in Bogota,” Ceferin said, speaking exclusively to ESPN. “I must say we were all surprised, if not shocked. We were told there’s a proposal, I can’t tell you from who, I can’t tell you exactly what, but it’s a lot of money.
“I don’t want to say that we don’t want or we don’t need to revamp the Club World Cup,” he added. “I don’t want to enter into discussions over whether we need a Global Nations League in this moment. The problem we had with this proposal — and by we I mean European clubs, European leagues and UEFA, plus our colleagues from other confederations — is that we were all elected because we made promises of good governance, promises of transparency… Do you think it’s transparent if I say that I have an offer of $25bn but I can’t tell you who is offering it and I can’t tell you exactly anything about the deal but please decide because it’s a lot money?”
Multiple media reports have identified the consortium as being led by Japan’s SoftBank, with considerable backing from Arab and American investors. According to the New York Times, the proposal would have seen the creation of a joint venture — with 51 percent owned by FIFA — to organise and commercialise the two new tournaments for a period of 12 years.
Ceferin said he and other FIFA officials were left in the dark on much of the proposal, to the point that he had to get his information through the media.
“Which is a bit strange since [as] you mention, I’m a vice-president of FIFA,” he said.
The UEFA president said he was also concerned that Infantino met representatives of some of the world’s top clubs at a private meeting in Zurich.
“It’s one more problem,” he said. “I don’t think the world or European or Asian or African governing body can choose who participates in the competition. I don’t think a governing body can speak only to the rich ones. How does it impact competitive balance? How can you say that some of the clubs are so important that you speak only to them?”
Ceferin rebuffed suggestions that fears the deal would hurt Champions League revenues motivated his reluctance to embrace the offer.
“It’s wrong; it wouldn’t have any impact,” he said. “We want clear procedures, we want transparent procedures and, for me personally, I don’t think we are allowed to sell our competition.”
On Thursday, FIFA decided to shelve discussion on the proposal until after the World Cup. Asked directly why he believed Infantino tried to push through a decision with so little consultation and information, Ceferin would not be drawn.
“I don’t want to enter into discussions of why it happened, but for me it was a surprise,” he said. “We all want to do new things; we all want to shape the future of football, but to expect us to decide without knowing anything about a thing like that is at least naive.”
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.