KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has indicated today that Europe would not approve any FIFA project which would risk repeating the mistakes of history.
Ceferin was in Brussels to present a ‘peace in our time’ agreement between the European federation and the increasingly influential European Club Association.
A meeting between Ceferin and ECA chairman Andrea Agnelli was endorsed by the European Union Commission. The triumvirate presents a significant power block whose views no sporting body, whether FIFA or even the International Olympic Committee, can afford to ignore.
The pact followed the Football Leaks revelations about elite club discussions of a so-called super league and further reports of $25bn negotiations between FIFA president Gianni Infantino and a consortium lined to the Japanese Softbank conglomerate.
Also named among the consortium have been UK investment group SB Investment Advisers Limited (SBIA) and the London-based investment company Centricus Partners. Softbank benefits from a significant investment by the state fund of Saudi Arabia, raising speculation about political power games.
In Bogota, Colombia, last March Infantino asked FIFA Council to clear him to negotiate a $25bn, 12-year offer from an unnamed investor for a global nations league and expanded Club World Cup.
Infantino said he had signed a non-disclosure agreement he could not share any further details with council about what or whom they would be welcoming aboard.
European members of council, including German DFB president Helmut Grindel, objected. Infantino’s further attempts to progress the issue have been similarly blocked. A taskforce (led by Infantino) due to report back to council in March.
So far, so complicated. But that was just the start.
A report last week in SuddeutscheZeitung claimed that the $25bn was for far more than ‘merely’ a nations league and Club World Cup. Also handed over would be all FIFA’s commercial and marketing rights including those relating to the crown jewels of the World Cup.
This would include revenue from rights to all satellite and network transmissions, archives, movies and videos, esport games and merchandising.
In other words, not only the family silver but the dining table and chairs plus all the kitchen equipment.
A joint venture company, FIFA Digital Corporation in which FIFA held a 51pc stake, would run the business with the FIFA president as joint chairman of the supervisory board. FIFA and the consortium would each appoint five directors.
For old-time observers of the FIFA of long-disgraced Joao Havelange and Sepp Blatter this recalled the two decades in which its rights were controlled by marketing partner ISL. FIFA was fortunate that, when ISL collapsed into bankruptcy, a clause in the small print reverted all rights to the world football body.
It is not clear whether such a backstop is envisaged in the latest proposal.
FIFA responded to the media storm by dismissing the report as merely one of many hundreds of such documents and that it was outdated. It added: “This does not allow conclusions to be drawn until a decision has been taken or a proposal accepted.”
Supporters of the proposal insist that separating the commercial entity from the governing body would allow a reduced FIFA to revert to its core role of concentrating on competition and development plus unified application of the laws of the game via the International Board (which was once independent but is now a subsidiary).
The ‘Project Trophy’ documentation included a fiercely critical assessment from Marco Villiger, then FIFA’s then legal director. Villiger left FIFA suddenly in August. Coincidentally the revelations emerged around the time Villiger and his former FIFA German assistant, Jorg Vollmuller, were announcing the launch of a sports consultancy.
First to object publicly, last weekend, was Grindel. He urged Infantino to “put all the facts and information on the table.”
Grindel said: “It can’t be, that every day there are new rumours and speculation. It cannot be correct that even after eight months, we are still speculating on the exact basis of this ominous offer. It is important that the FIFA President stands for integrity, transparency and compliance.”
Then, along came Ceferin today in Brussels, in more diplomatic tones. Asked about the $25bn proposal, said: ““It’s hard to have an exact view on something you don’t know anything about.”
He added: “We [UEFA and ECA] share the opinion that football is not for sale; we share the opinion that we have to develop football not just generate revenues; we share the opinion that we cannot just sell any competition to any financial entity on a European or global level. We are not the owners of football.”
More specifically Ceferin, who is also a FIFA vice-president, added: “Do you see any difference between a private Super League and a competition that is completely secret and which is 49 percent sold to a private fund and started by secret talks only with a few big clubs? Where is the difference between a Super League and a competition like that?
“I’m not saying FIFA should not organise the Club World Cup. They are organising it now. There is always room for improvement…but not in this direction. This kind of competition is the road to a super league if it is not one in itself.”
UEFA has a minority of nine members on the 36-strong FIFA Council but any potential investor would understand that, without Europe on board, any ‘worldwide’ agreement would be impossible.