A regional football league for Russia and other countries is to start next autumn with Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) approval despite opposition from FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the head of Russia’s state gas firm Gazprom has said.
Many Russian clubs see the planned Unified Football Championship (UFC) for Russian and Ukrainian clubs as a cash cow that would attract sponsors and TV revenues to help clubs meet UEFA financial fair play rules.
Gazprom is the financial backer of Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg and a UEFA Champions League sponsor. Its head Alexei Miller, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, met with representatives of 14 Russian top-flight clubs and one Ukrainian side to discuss the plans Monday.
“We think it is realistic to hold the championship from the autumn of 2014 to the spring of 2015. But if the time to reach agreements drags on then we plan to hold the championship from autumn 2015 to spring 2016,” Miller said.
Blatter’s declaration last month that creating the league is “impossible”. Plus subsequent opposition from the Russian and Ukrainian Football Associations (FA) had appeared to kill off the scheme but Miller insisted it was still possible.
“Of course, the approval of UEFA is required and we will definitely do that. We can already say with confidence that there will be an interesting discussion. Firstly, this is because of the requirements imposed by UEFA, fair play. I am sure that if the United Championship is created, this requirement will be fully conformed to,” he said.
The prize fund would be one billion euros, comparable to the Champions League.
In December, a UEFA source said the idea was “interesting” and was the only way for clubs in the region to earn enough to reduce their vast losses and meet financial fair play rules.
From next season UEFA will be able to ban clubs from European competition if they breach the fair play rules by posting vast losses over three years. The UFC, previously known as the Super League, has been compared to a revived Soviet championship. Former Russia coach Valery Gazzaev is overseeing its formulation and has said it would consist of two divisions of 18 teams.
The first seasons would essentially see a merger of the Russian and Ukrainian leagues before branching out, Gazzaev said, sentiments echoed by Miller.
“Since the initiation of a championship like this is a complicated diplomatic solution, we have decided to initiate the championship with Ukraine. In the future, if everything works out for us, we will be able to co-opt clubs from the other countries in the post-Soviet space, which could take part in the United Championship. But that’s the next step,” Miller said. All post-Soviet countries would be eligible, he added.
A presentation shown at Monday’s meeting indicates the league would be run by a “non-commercial organisation” headed by a president with a management council composed of Russian and Ukrainian representatives. Who would own the organisation was not immediately clear.
The only Russian top-flight clubs not to attend the meeting were Terek Grozny, whose vice-president has slammed the scheme as “crazy” and minnows Mordovia Saransk. The Ukrainian representatives present were former national champions Tavria Simferopol. A separate meeting for Ukrainian clubs will reportedly take place at a later date.
UEFA has allowed regional club competitions before but they did not seek to replace national leagues as the proposed league would.
The Royal League brought together clubs from Norway, Denmark and Sweden between 2004 and 2007 but attracted scant interest from fans because it did not offer European qualification and clubs often fielded weak teams.