Champions League changes damaging for clubs - Olsson

By Brian Homewood
FILE PHOTO: The UEFA logo is seen before the draw ceremony for the 2016/2017 Champions League Cup soccer competition at Monaco's Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo

By Brian Homewood

BERNE (Reuters) - Europe's football clubs and supporters are not fully aware of the extent of the damage which will be caused by upcoming changes to the Champions League, according to a leading regional league official.

Lars-Christer Olsson, the head of the EPFL umbrella organisation representing Europe's domestic leagues, said he had still not given up on trying to persuade European soccer governing body UEFA to change its mind.

He added that, if implemented, the new system could turn many leagues into one-horse races with the same team winning year after year.

"Those who already have a lot will get much more... and that is the biggest threat," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Last year, UEFA approved additional slots for clubs from England, Spain, Germany and Italy in the lucrative Champions League group stage, while reducing those allocated to teams from smaller leagues.

It added that participating clubs would get significantly more revenue under the new format which runs from 2018-21.

"What we will do in the discussions with UEFA is to highlight the consequences of that decision," Olsson said.

"Our task is show that there are some very negative consequences and we have to discuss that," he added, admitting that whether UEFA could be persuaded to reconsider was "still to be seen".

"It has not been clearly shown what kind of difficulties will be created for the competitive balance of the domestic leagues and also in the long run for international club competitions."

Clubs which take part in the Champions and Europa Leagues are already given generous payments by UEFA. Critics say this gives them a huge advantage over domestic rivals who do not qualify for Europe and also creates a snowball effect.

SITUATION WORSENING

For the present season, UEFA has predicted that it will hand out a total of 1.31 billion euros ($1.39 billion) to Champions League participants.

Teams receive a basic 12.7 million euros each just for taking part in the group stage, which is greater than the annual revenue of many European clubs.

Even now, many leagues are dominated by a single club. FC Basel have won the Swiss title seven times in a row, Olympiakos have taken 18 of the last 20 Greek titles, Dinamo Zagreb have won the last 11 in Croatia and Celtic the last six in Scotland.

Olsson said that paradoxically, the problem would be made worse if UEFA's revenue increased.

"They are doing a good job in the sales, which means there will be more money on the table and if that money goes to those who already have a lot, it will have a detrimental effect on the domestic competitions," he said.

"We are talking a lot of money and we are talking big differences."

The EPFL has already ended an agreement with UEFA after its members agreed not to stage domestic matches on the same days that European matches were being played.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said in a speech to his federation's annual Congress on Wednesday that he would not give in to "blackmail" by the leagues. Olsson, however, said he did not take the remark personally.

"It was a good speech to his own constituents, who are the national associations," he said.

($1 = 0.9403 euros)

(Editing by John O'Brien)