MOSCOW, November 15 (R-Sport) – Plans to merge the Russian and Ukrainian football championships took a huge blow on Friday as UEFA president Michel Platini said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the idea went against the principles of European football’s governing body.
The Kremlin had backed the plans to combine 80 teams from Russia and Ukraine into a four-division structure, with future expansion into other post-Soviet countries in a competition with a total budget of $1 billion.
But to come to fruition, the scheme needs the UEFA’s backing because the teams are all its members, and the current leagues, as they stand, are its affiliates.
“This doesn’t correspond to our ideas at all,” Platini said of the plans on a surprise visit to Moscow. He called Russia and Ukraine “two big, rich powers.”
“I have said this to Putin in Sochi. There’s no need to protect your football,” he said. It is unclear whether Platini’s words spell death for the new league.
The organizing committee for the so-called Unified Football Championship responded by insisting that it would continue to develop its plans to merge the leagues, even though it “respected the opinion” of Platini.
A merger would “enable the improvement of the quality of football, significantly increase spectator interest, the ability to compete on an international level and the financial stability of clubs, which completely complies with the UEFA’s criteria and recommendations,” the organizing committee said in a statement on its Facebook page.
The financial protection of football in Russia and Ukraine was one of the motivating factors in the new league, whose revenues would make sure teams could adhere to the UEFA’s rules on financial fair play.
The man in charge of organizing it, former Russia coach Valery Gazzaev, has said it could start in the next few years.
The plans have already met stern opposition from Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who insists that Russian money should stay in Russian football. FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, has called the proposed league “impossible.”
But the plans have found powerful backers in Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff, and state gas producer Gapzrom, which sponsors Zenit St. Petersburg and whose CEO Alexei Miller is Putin’s close confidant.