UEFA President Ceferin criticizes Europe’s top leagues

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

HELSINKI — UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin accused Europe‘s top leagues of attempting to “blackmail” the governing body on Wednesday.

The European Professional Football Leagues, which represents leagues from 25 countries, has threatened to schedule domestic league games on the same evening as UEFA’s Champions League or Europa League.

“We will never give in to the blackmail of those who think they can manipulate small leagues or impose their will on the associations because they think they are all powerful on account of the astronomical revenues they generate,” Ceferin said at the UEFA Congress.

Asked which leagues he was referring to, Ceferin said: “I think that the ones I referred to understood the message.”

Ceferin criticized the Premier League for staging a game between Manchester City and Stoke last month on the same night as two Champions League games.

"I don't like it," said Ceferin, who added he planned to meet Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore for discussions. "I'm having a meeting with Mr. Scudamore very soon, and I hope that we will come to an agreement ... In principle, we have to have an agreement about that, and I think it's important also for the Premier League."

The EPFL has been critical of UEFA since being left out of key talks on changing Champions League entries and prize money distribution. A deal between the EPFL and UEFA to avoid schedule clashes expired last month.

The English representative on the UEFA executive committee, David Gill, sought to play down the rift over scheduling.

"There's perhaps a lot of saber-rattling at the moment, but ultimately I think common sense will prevail and there'll be a sensible relationship," Gill said. "That will unfold over the next few months."

Ceferin also said UEFA was considering action on sexual abuse in youth soccer after numerous accusations in Britain over recent months.

"We cannot shut our eyes," Ceferin said. "The solutions we are exploring include a charter, the establishment of records, training and education for players and coaches, legal aid for victims and lobbying the European institutions regarding statutes of limitation."

The UEFA Congress unanimously approved a package of reforms proposed by Ceferin requiring the organization's top officials to also hold positions in their own countries' national association. There will also be a limit of three four-year terms at UEFA. The measures aim to make sure officials aren't "out of touch with reality," Ceferin said.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino attended the congress and said Ceferin's election last year had ended years of feuding between the governing bodies.

"This stupid rivalry between UEFA and FIFA does not exist anymore and does not have to exist," Infantino said before hugging Ceferin.

Relations between FIFA and UEFA became strained in recent years under the leadership of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini. Both have since been banned from soccer for corruption.

Seats on the FIFA Council were confirmed for Sandor Csanyi (Hungary), Dejan Savicevic (Montenegro), and Costakis Koutsokoumnis (Cyprus), who will serve through 2021. They were unopposed because Icelandic candidate Geir Thorsteinsson withdrew and Russian candidate Vitaly Mutko failed eligibility checks because of his role as Russian deputy prime minister.

A special election will be held in September for a fourth FIFA Council spot.

Separately, German soccer association president Reinhard Grindel was appointed to finish predecessor Wolfgang Niersbach's spot on the council, to run through 2019. Niersbach was banned from soccer last year after the FIFA ethics committee ruled he failed to report possible misconduct related to Germany being awarded hosting rights for the 2006 World Cup.

Former Polish great Zbigniew Boniek was among eight candidates elected Wednesday to places on the UEFA executive committee, along with Grindel, Gill, John Delaney (Ireland), Michele Uva (Italy), Karl-Erik Nilsson (Sweden), Michael van Praag (Netherlands) and Servet Yardimci (Turkey).

Candidates from Albania, Azerbaijan and Wales were not elected, and two from Kazakhstan and Cyprus withdrew.