BRUSSELS (AP) — UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has criticized plans for secretive investors to buy soccer tournaments just as FIFA president Gianni Infantino promotes a $25 billion offer from a Saudi Arabia-backed fund.
During a European Union policy debate Wednesday on commercialization of elite sport, Ceferin told lawmakers: "Football is not for sale."
"I cannot accept that some people, some of our colleagues, who are blinded by the pursuit of profit are considering to sell the soul of football tournaments to nebulous private funds," the European soccer leader said, without naming Infantino.
"We are not the owners of football. We are not allowed to sell it," Ceferin added, denouncing "a highly cynical and ruthless mercantilism."
Infantino has not identified the investors FIFA wants to join in a commercial partnership to run competitions starting in 2021. He has cited a non-disclosure agreement during a 60-day negotiating period which expired last week.
They want to expand the Club World Cup to a tournament with 24 teams that is held every four years with guaranteed revenue of $3 billion for each edition. A national team competition for more than 200 countries is promised to earn $2 billion every two years.
FIFA has now shelved its plan to seal a 12-year partnership with the Japanese-led consortium before the World Cup kicks off next month, but talks are expected to resume soon.
Ceferin helped force the FIFA delay with support from European soccer officials, including domestic leagues who fear the promised prize money shared among elite clubs would distort their competitions.
"We are committed to unity and solidarity, because we have a duty to care about the European sports model," Ceferin told lawmakers, citing the need for soccer to be "fair, unpredictable, united and open."
"As long as I will be UEFA president, there will be no room for pursuing selfish endeavors or hiding behind false pretenses," the Slovenian lawyer said.
Ceferin has made achieving "competitive balance" in European competitions — such as slowing a widening wealth gap between clubs — an aim of his first presidential term which expires next year.
He called for help from European lawmakers, which could mean soccer seeking exemptions from commercial laws which protect free trade and movement of workers across the bloc of 28 member states.
"Please help us to put an ambitious initiative on track for the overall well-being of sport," Ceferin said.