By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 27, 2011) US Soccer Players — We'll start the short week between holidays with a quote from UEFA president Michel Platini, taken from his summary of 2011 published on UEFA's official site.
It has been a year in which certain of our national associations have had to take courageous decisions to preserve the justice and integrity of our sport. A year in which we have also had to remain solid and defend our values 鈥?sometimes alone 鈥?to guarantee the respecting of the rules and the equity of the competitions, and to prevent football becoming a hostage of a few for their own profit and interests.
Let's consider a few things. UEFA generates massive amounts of revenue through two prestigious competitions they control. Both of those tournaments have been expanded, and it's tough to support the argument that those expansion decisions were based solely on competition. Economics were and are in play. UEFA after expansion is a much richer organization in literal terms than they were before. So are the teams that regularly feature in their top-level tournaments.
The Champions League and the European Championship feature more games, more prize money, and generate more revenue than they ever would if the sole point was simply teasing out the best teams in Europe. This might not be the read on those tournaments UEFA would like. However, it's not invention to look at both of them and see that common trend.
How does that work in practice? The Champions League expands to include non-champions, adds a group stage to increase the number of guaranteed games, and makes reaching the knockout phase one of the most lucrative prizes in sports. The European Championship had four teams qualifying for the final tournament prior to 1980, eight prior to 1996, and 16 prior to 2016 when UEFA is increasing it to 24 countries.
UEFA isn't acting alone in making these decisions. The increases in the Champions League and European Championship give a greater incentive and stage for the teams that regularly qualify along with a wider safety net for those that don't. UEFA walks a thin line between acting in the best interest of an ideal of competition and the demands of the teams. Sometimes – as was the case with the double group stage version of the Champions League – all involved come up with something that simply doesn't resonate with the viewing audience. More often than not though, increased inclusion means increased interest for enough of the games to justify the choice.
Historically, UEFA has stressed that need for inclusion and why not? It broadly covers what UEFA has done to those two premier competitions, bringing more opportunity for more of its members. There's nothing necessarily wrong with addressing a set of concerns that mainly pertain to the elite and the wannabe elite. Reaching out to the elite clubs nd revamping the Champions League likely forestalled a breakaway competition. That's good for UEFA and the clubs that don't count themselves among Europe's truly elite.
It's that next step UEFA seems determined to take that casts an odd light on their own competition choices. UEFA can openly criticize the 'few' acting 'for their own profit and interests' but it immediately calls into question who those 'few' actually are. You've probably read reports in the European media linking major clubs with potential issues once Financial Fair Play comes into practice. So far, there haven't been any prestige clubs unable to get a license to participate in UEFA competitions based on financial issues. If UEFA's attempt to save Europe from clubs relying on questionable financing only leaves out clubs most of us have never heard of, what's the point?
Make no mistake, UEFA might be the ones making the sweeping statements and adopting public policies designed around their own definitions of fairness and equitable competition, but they're only in charge as much as their constituencies allow. Those unnecessarily inflated tournaments they run at substantial profit are evidence of the desires of the clubs and the countries. The Champions League in particular remains a poorly designed end run to postpone the elite clubs from considering alternative competition models. That it's turned into the most lucrative club competition on the planet says more about the value of those clubs playing meaningful games than it does about UEFA as organizers.
The Europa League, at least in the running for most disorganized competition on the planet, is UEFA as designer at work. It's an answer to a ludicrous question, what to do with all of those clubs that would very much like to be playing in the Champions League. The better answer once the Champions League was expanded beyond reason and the Cup Winners' Cup done away with entirely would be to tell those constituent clubs to win more domestic league games. Instead, the safety net of not having to win a league title to qualify for the Champions League was extended to a revamp of the UEFA Cup that made that original inflated and questionable competition seem like a good idea.
UEFA in practice rather than theory, and a working criticism that should be called to mind each and every time the organization decides to talk about the values of the European game.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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