PARIS, June 5: French President Emmanuel Macron angered the head of European football on Tuesday by using a speech at a FIFA reception to denounce a proposal to transform the Champions League into a largely closed competition.
Macron’s criticism at an opening event for the Women’s World Cup was delivered in front of UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, who told The Associated Press it was “clear interference of politics in sports.”
Macron’s comments, based on Ceferin’s account, echoed a public intervention by the French leader earlier on Tuesday when he urged UEFA to abandon the concept being championed by elite clubs determined to lock in their positions in the Champions League from 2024.
The media was not invited to the reception and the address by Macron at the Grand Palais in the French capital.
“During his speech he was mentioning UEFA and saying that we should be careful about changes of the Champions League and that solidarity is important,” Ceferin told the AP from the event.
“The president’s speech was a clear interference of politics in sports which surprised us very much.”
Under a proposal presented by UEFA to European leagues last month, 24 out of the 32 teams in the group stage would retain their Champions League places for the following season as promotion and relegation are introduced into three tiers of continent-wide competitions.
“It’s not so important that the changes might happen or not and that nothing has been decided yet,” Ceferin said.
“The important thing is that we will not allow politics to dictate us how we govern the sports. And since the president was mentioning solidarity, UEFA is the only football organisation in Europe that distributes solidarity funds all over Europe. So we know well what solidarity means.”
The proposal to overhaul the competition has been challenged by leagues across Europe and French soccer federation president Noel Le Graet. They argue the concept could diminish the status of domestic competitions and make it harder for clubs from smaller leagues to earn a place in the group stage of the Champions League.
Macron’s first intervention on the Champions League changes came earlier in the day during a visit to Clairefontaine, the France national team’s base near Paris. – AP