AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told European football’s administrators on Tuesday that they can be proud to be in charge of the most popular, wealthiest and best football in the world.
In a surprisingly blunt message, the Slovenian told his organisation’s annual congress that they should not be ashamed of the success of tournaments such as the Champions League and the Euros — nor the huge amount money they generate.
“Should we be ashamed of our success? To be considered by many as the most important sports organisation in the world?” he asked the assembled delegates from 55 European countries.
Breaking with the usual diplomatic approach at such events, Ceferin, who followed FIFA president Gianni Infantino to the podium, directly compared UEFA’s revenue to FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“In the current four-year cycle, from 2016 to 2020, UEFA will have generated more than 15 billion euros in revenue – more than double the 6.6 billion euros or so that FIFA will make over the same period, and twice as much as the IOC is able to generate in the same cycle,” said Ceferin, who also offered a comparison to the NFL in the United States.
“The total cumulative TV audience for a month-long UEFA Euro (tournament) is more than 30 times that of the American Super Bowl,” he said.
“The UEFA Champions League final is the most-watched annual football club event in the world.
“Should we be ashamed of this commercial success? Should we be ashamed that, together, we, the national associations, leagues and clubs, have made European football the greatest success story of modern-day sport?”
Ceferin then listed the on-field success of European nations before insisting that the huge revenues were only justifiable if UEFA stuck to “purpose over profit” and continued to support grassroots football and social campaigns.
Without making specific reference to any proposal, Ceferin said: “When purpose over profit becomes profit over purpose, it is time to raise the alarm. Football is not simply a business like any other. It has a history, tradition and structure that must be respected.
“The football pyramid is delicate and must not be knocked off balance. Certain projects, some devised on other continents with the backing of governing bodies, are particularly worrying,” he said, attacking the idea of closed leagues or ending promotion and relegation.
“Our principles, history, tradition and structure have enabled football to dominate other sports and enabled European football to dominate the rest of the world. Calling them into question would be a death sentence for our sport,” he said.
In his closing remarks, not including in the pre-written script of his speech, Ceferin also said officials should remember their role.
“No football administrator, no matter the size of the ego should think we are the stars of the game. We are only the guardians of the game.”
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar