Pan-European league idea runs into opposition

MADRID (Reuters) - Most clubs oppose a suggested pan-European League that would feature promotion and relegation between various divisions, the umbrella organisation representing the continent’s domestic leagues said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Chairman Lars-Christer Olsson addresses the media after a general assembly of the EPFL (European Professional Football Leagues), the umbrella organization representing Europe's professional soccer leagues, at the airport in Zurich, Switzerland October 21, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

Lars-Christer Olsson, president of the European Leagues grouping, said he had “significant concerns” that such a competition could harm domestic competitions such as the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga.

Last month, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, chairman of the European Club Association (ECA) whose members include all of the region’s top clubs, invited clubs to discuss a “pyramidal Pan European League System” to be introduced from 2024.

It would replace the current European competition format consisting of the Champions League and Europa League, although Agnelli did not give details of how it would work.

UEFA and the ECA want to overhaul and expand European competition from 2024 onwards when the current calendar ends.

European Leagues are worried that this, combined with the possibility of giving captive places to big clubs in UEFA competitions, could reduce the appeal of domestic competition.

Olsson said most of the 244 clubs present at the European Leagues meeting on Tuesday were against the ECA suggestion.

“I can say with a lot of confidence that the vast majority of the clubs at this meeting today were saying they are not in favour of a development outlined by the ECA president,” he said.

“They don’t want to see promotion and relegation, they don’t want a pyramidal system and they don’t want a closed league in Europe.”

Olsson suggested that the ECA plan was a closed league with a different name and that it would invariably require weekend dates - both denied by the ECA. “The weekends have always been reserved for domestic competition,” Olsson said.

The ECA has said, however, that discussions are only at an early stage and has denied it wants to create a closed league.

“There has been a lot of talk about closed system, weekend games and I don’t think that is true,” ECA vice-chairman Edwin van der Sar told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting.

“They are creating something that is not there.”

The former goalkeeper, who is chief executive of Ajax Amsterdam, said one the ECA’s main concerns was to get more high-level games from teams outside the big five leagues.

“The main thing we are working for is trying to get more access for more clubs and more countries,” he said, mentioning Poland, Turkey and Portugal as examples.

He said that clubs in mid-sized leagues wanted “interesting and meaningful games” and that “those games are more often in Europe.”

Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne