How can UEFA rebuild the reputation of international football?

Rebuilding the reputation of international football

Fuser Albert Bosch recently attended a seminar presented by UEFA’s President, Aleksander Čeferin, who discussed the steps UEFA is taking to rebuild the reputation of international football. Here he shares insights from the day.

Alexander Čeferin is a lawyer with a prominent background in football, representing both individual players and clubs. Before being elected UEFA President, Čeferin was at the Slovenian Football Association, he’s also an acting FIFA Vice-President.

Corruption in football

During the seminar, Čeferin made a point to reiterate several times that the corruption scandals engulfing FIFA are not present at UEFA. However, it was these football scandals that made him run for UEFA president, as he understood football needed a lawyer at that time.

One of the measures Čeferin implemented to prevent corruption was to introduce a presidency term to limit the length of time an individual can be in the role. When the terms were unlimited, people thought they would remain in charge forever, so corruption was more likely to happen because people felt untouchable. He implemented the policy because “If you limit yourself, you can limit others,” if you know something will come to an end soon, you will approach things in a different way.

UEFA’S competitions

Women’s Football: Women’s football previously lost money every year, but UEFA always saw it as an investment. Today it’s almost breaking even and with recent significant investments from companies such as Visa and Barclays, it’s likely that the women’s game will continue to grow.

2024 UEFA Champions League: A new format proposal (which included ideas such as clubs being automatically qualified for the competition and playing more games on weekends) was not consulted with enough stakeholders. The idea of a new format did not come from the ‘big clubs’, who will remain big no matter the rules, but from the ‘middle clubs’. Whatever ends up happening with this new format, Čeferin wants to have an open consultation to decide the final outcome.

Nations League: The Nations League was more successful than UEFA expected. Čeferin stated that he believes it’s a very good idea because friendly games were ‘meaningless’ until now, even if it’s hard to understand how the qualifying process for Euros works. He would like to rethink having the third-place play-off in UEFA competitions and this might actually change for next cycle. No one is particularly interested about this game and it means players have to stay three more days stuck in a hotel room instead of going on holiday.

Club World Cup: having a Club World Cup would not have any impact on the UEFA Champions League, because the number of European participants in that potential new tournament would be very small.

UEFA Europa League Final & Baku: Regarding complaints about the final being in Baku, considering the game started at 11pm local time, he argued that the interests of Western-European fans were met. Also, the stadium in Baku holds 70,000 people, making it one of the larger stadiums in Europe. Finally, he argued that if players like Shakhtar and Zenit had to play a final in London it would mean having to travel a big distance for them, something they would not have complained about.

When discussing Henrikh Mkhitaryan not playing in the Europa League Final, Čeferin stated that UEFA got absolutely all the guarantees from the government that the players would be safe at all times, however it was the player’s decision not to play and there is nothing UEFA could do about it.

Sponsors’ ticket allocations

Regarding certain groups of fans asking UEFA to reduce the sponsors’ ticket allocation for the Champions League Final, Čeferin mentioned that sponsors pay a lot of money and it’s therefore understandable that they want to have tickets in return. The solution he will try to implement in order to satisfy both sponsors and fans, is ensuring that the UCL Final is played only in the biggest stadia, while also taking into account accommodation and transport offerings, even if that means playing the final in only a few different locations. However, the Europa League Final will still take place in less ‘popular’ countries that also love football in order to grow the game and prevent the top UEFA competitions’ outreach being too closed amongst a small number of nations.

UEFA’s social programmes

UEFA (Europe only) is much bigger than FIFA (worldwide) in many aspects, that’s why UEFA has worldwide programmes. Also, these programmes are implemented because UEFA competitions are played by players who come from all over the world. UEFA has done a few things to improve the World Cup in Qatar 2022, despite not organising the competition. Čeferin believes organising such a competition can only benefit the social aspects of the country, as it will be under the spotlight and might change laws that would benefit the people living there.

Regarding racism in football, UEFA is already implementing several measures and campaigns to tackle the issue, but at the same time it is considering if it is doing enough and what it could do better. Čeferin believes that although football is a powerful tool, to tackle racism you need to involve all aspects of society.

For many years UEFA has been trying to tackle social issues like racism and homophobia, yet how to tackle climate change is something it has only started discussing in June 2019. UEFA has the power to play a big role from an environmental point of view and we can expect to see some campaigns tackling environmental issues soon.

IMPLICATIONS FOR UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SPONSORS

Competition format

UEFA Champions League partners should take note of possible changes to the competition format from 2024. According to recent media publications, the most significant changes could be around the number of games that are played in the group stages with a potential increase in the size of the groups to protect certain clubs that would automatically qualify, and more games being played on weekends. As with any structural change to a hugely popular tournament, there is likely to be some level of backlash – particularly if it penalises clubs outside of the established elite.

The UEFA Champions League does not currently include a third-place play-off (a game to decide who is 3rd and 4th). However, this additional game is available in national team UEFA competitions. Considering Čeferin is keen to get rid of it, it’s very unlikely that we will see a third-place play-off in the UEFA Champions League any time soon.

Ticket allocations

When Čeferin was asked about the potential reduction of the UEFA Champions League’s partners ticket allocation for the Finals, he stated that he intends to protect the interests of the sponsors, reminding everyone about the big investment they make towards the competition each season.

This hints that a reduction of the sponsors’ ticket allocations in the next cycle is unlikely. Nonetheless, Čeferin is aware that every season there’s a huge demand for this game and fan interest must also be protected. Therefore, his solution to play the UCL Final only in the biggest stadia in Europe makes sense. There are currently six football stadia with over 80,000 seats aross Europe: Camp Nou (Barcelona), Wembley Stadium (London), Santiago Bernabeu (Madrid), Luzhniki Stadium (Moscow) Stade de France (Paris) and San Siro (Milan). Considering all these cities have previously hosted finals and are good options logistically, we can infer that the pool of prospective host cities may decrease in future UCL cycles.

UEFA’s social programmes

UEFA’s social programmes are using the power of football to make positive changes to all of society. For this reason, increasing the number of these programmes all over the world can only benefit brands associated with UEFA. As Čeferin mentioned that UEFA’s newest challenge from a social perspective is to help combat climate change, we can expect this to be a key consideration when the next cycle of partners are signed – with possible implications for the likes of Gazprom.

With mention of a UEFA Club World Cup, 2024 Cycle changes, continuous rumours of a European Super League fragmenting from the UCL, in addition to UEFA’s continued commitment to further digitised advancements, it is not unreasonable to suggest that significant structural changes will be made to the UEFA Champions League ahead of the cycle that ends in 2024.