Soccerex European Forum (Manchester): UEFA General Secretary 1-2-1

Day 1 – Wednesday 10 April 2013

09:30 – 10:30       UEFA General Secretary 1-2-1

–      Gianni Infantino, UEFA General Secretary

–      Moderator: David Davies, Senior Consultant Soccerex

This session began with David Davies welcoming Gianni Infantino and stating that the UEFA General Secretary was a man who didn’t just talk about what needed to be done; he was in fact a man who got the job done. In the last twelve months Infantino had overseen the challenges on the pitch of the 2012 European Championship Finals in Poland and Ukraine, the Champions League Final and the Europa League Final. Off the pitch he had been instrumental in the implementation of the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. In terms of the current issues for the General Secretary, these included the recent allegations of match fixing, racism, the ‘club v country’ debate, the 2016 and 2020 European Championship tournaments and the possibility of a winter World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

David Davies, Senior Consultant Soccerex

David Davies asked Gianni Infantino was the radical change to qualification and the Finals for Euro 2016 an admission that the success of the Champions League had become too great and that this club competition dwarfed the international scene. The UEFA General Secretary replied that the expansion of the Finals to 24 teams and the revamp of the qualification calendar was the most important decision of recent years. It was to create a passion outside of just the Finals itself and was to get away from the situation where qualification for the tournament was just squeezed in rather than having any attention or focus. He said that the changes would see 12 match days over 14 months. Currently qualifiers take place on a Friday and Tuesday which leaves the rest of the week to other sports. With the introduction of the Week of Football, teams would play games on one of the following pairs of days, Thursday/Sunday, Friday/Monday or Saturday/Tuesday. Infantino added that this would allow fans to watch a number of the 8-10 games a week. He went on to say that there would be a standard branding across all the games with UEFA guaranteeing that all matches would be broadcast free-to-air. David Davies said that he could remember when the European Championship Finals only consisted of 8 teams and suggested that the increase to 24 teams could take away some of the ‘specialness’ of the tournament. Gianni Infantino said that nowadays there was more than just 8 quality teams in Europe and this was reflected in the increase in qualifying teams. He added that it would mean more countries feeling the euphoria from the point of qualification right the way up to the Finals and would help develop countries.

Moving onto the 2020 European Championship Finals, David Davies asked whether the real reason for holding the tournament across the whole of Europe was that because in these difficult economic times there was no country willing to take on the financial burden of hosting it alone. The General Secretary responded that this was not the case as it was easy to find willing bidders. He added that Michel Platini had the idea whilst attending the 2012 Finals and saw at first-hand how difficult the travel was across Poland and Ukraine. Gianni Infantino believed that it was good news for fans as with 13 host cities, more people could share the thrill of seeing the tournament ‘live’. David Davies wondered though whether it will be expensive for fans travelling across Europe. Infantino countered that host cities would get two ‘home’ games and that flying between venues would be limited to 2 hours maximum. He added that the low fares between cities that existed meant it would not be such an expensive experience. Gianni Infantino continued that 2020 would mark the 60th Anniversary of the European Championships and it would be celebrated in this unique manner of hosting. David Davies asked whether the statement made by Sepp Blatter that because of the various host cities the 2020 tournament would ‘lack soul’, was a valid one. The General Secretary said that of the 53 Associations in UEFA, 52 have voted in favour with only Turkey against it and therefore it was a democratic decision and one they were all happy with. He added that countries could bid either to host Group fixtures or a Semi-Final and the Final, but not both. 26 April 2013 would see the Bid Regulations being produced, with the Associations having until 11 September 2013 to decide what they want to bid for. On 25 April 2014 Associations will be asked to present their bid documents. David Davies asked that even given this significant change for the 2020 Finals could international football be lifted to compete with the Champions League. Gianni Infantino believed that the magic will return to international football by promoting the heart and passion of national teams. The General Secretary believed that there was already an appetite for international football and pointed out that there was a higher television audience in October 2012 for England v San Marino than for the Champions League fixture between Manchester City and Real Madrid and the FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Manchester United.

David Davies stated that Michel Platini had talked about the possibility of a winter World Cup in Qatar in 2022 and asked what Infantino thought about the idea. He said that in his opinion (and it was his personal view) that a winter World Cup was a possibility because of the concerns regarding the heat in the summer. However, ultimately that was a decision for FIFA. David Davies added that he had heard that the European Leagues were worried that this would have an impact for up to 3 years before their competitions returned to normality. Gianni Infantino acknowledged that there was much discussion to be had. He also stated how he believed that June was not used enough by football and that there should be a look at playing longer into the month.

The next subject to be raised was that relating to the progress with the FFP regulations. Gianni Infantino said that it was progressing positively and that its biggest success was that the notion and principles of FFP were implanted in the heads of Chief Executives, coaches and players alike. They all recognised that it has to be managed and now there are bodies to support this process to ensure the regulations are met. He added that the mechanism existed to hand-out sanctions, but success was not measured in terms of kicking clubs out of competitions, but in changing the mind-set. David Davies asked if the General Secretary expected the sanctions to be used in the near future, who replied that they had already been used and that for instance Malaga would be suspended next season from European competition. He added that next year will also see the introduction of the Break-even ruling.

Gianni Infantino, UEFA General Secretary

Turning to the issue of racism, David Davies asked whether UEFA was doing enough to combat it, given that as an organisation they stated that despite all the progress being made, it was still “widespread”. Infantino replied that racism had to be defeated and that one case, was one case too many. He added that in May, UEFA would be amending their disciplinary rules focusing on two areas. Firstly, there would be an increase in campaigns and activities in areas such as awareness and education. Secondly, there would be new sanctions. Players and officials guilty of racism would be suspended for a minimum of 10 matches. Supporters who engaged in racist behaviour would see sections of the ground where this occurred closed for a first offence. If a second offence occurs, then the ground would be closed entirely and a fine of €50,000 imposed. Referees would also be given the power to stop, interrupt and ultimately abandon games for racist incidents. Gianni Infantino was asked whether following Kevin-Prince Boateng walking-off in the friendly game, that in future players would be discouraged from doing the same. The General Secretary said that with the new procedures coming into force this type of action would not be necessary as players would now be able to speak to the referee and that clubs would be hit with ground closures as the ultimate sanction.

The next topic of discussion centred on the report that emerged in February this year which claimed that 380 European games had been affected by match fixing since 2008. David Davies asked why the story didn’t seem to have a massive impact as it quickly vanished from the headlines. Gianni Infantino explained that it quickly became ‘old news’ since UEFA were aware of the accusations and had acted on the cases highlighted. He added that match fixing had to be eradicated so that the integrity of the game was maintained. Even though the percentage of games highlighted as having some irregularity was low (0.7%), results were the soul of the game and it would need other organisations such as the police and governments to work with UEFA to deal with the problem. David Davies asked the General Secretary whether he believed games were still being fixed today. He answered that he did not believe that it occurred in top-level competition but that maybe it was still going on at a lower level.

Moving away from the issue of match fixing, David Davies asked whether the UEFA President Michel Platini would be looking to move into the role of FIFA President in 2015. Infantino responded that he did not know, but believed that Platini was still busy in driving through all the current UEFA reform. The final question from David Davies was with regard to Gianni Infantino’s ambition going forward. The General Secretary said that he loved football and therefore wanted to continue in his role and carry it out to the best of his ability.

The session closed with questions from the audience. The first asked whether UEFA had on their agenda the future formation of a European Super League. Gianni Infantino responded that the Champions League was as near as that concept would get and that the clubs were happy with this. It was the best club competition in the world and therefore it is the right way as it is. The next question posed whether there were different skills required to win the Champions League as compared to a domestic league. Infantino said that in terms of Champions League football that it was more difficult to win it as teams had to overcome potentially difficult draws all through the competition and the dangers that knock-out football holds. He added that in terms of a domestic league, the luck balances out over a season and therefore was an easier trophy to win. The final question was centred around the fines that were handed out to Nicklas Bendtner at Euro 2012 and that handed out to Serbia after the racist incidents in the U21 fixture with England – why was the fine the same when surely the racism issue was a more serious one? The General Secretary explained that UEFA was now changing its regulations and that its intention now was to target the fans as currently fines don’t affect them directly and therefore ground closures was the way to go in combating the issue of abuse and racism.

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Posted April 16, 2013 by Editor in category "Soccerex 2013

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