Platini says Uefa stance could change after trial

 

CROSS-BORDER LEAGUES:UEFA PRESIDENT Michel Platini said yesterday that depending on how an experiment with the women’s senior game in Belgium and the Netherlands turns out, the organisation could change its stance on cross-Border leagues over the coming seasons, something that could have enormous implications for the future of the Airtricity League.

A shift in policy would open the door to initiatives like the Celtic League proposal, a competition involving leading clubs from the likes of Ireland (North and South), Scotland and Wales, that was floated a few years ago but which failed to gain the necessary support, in part because of the lack of Uefa approval and fear that the status of the participating countries’ separate national teams might be undermined.

Now, however, with an increasing number of leagues struggling due to the international financial climate and many lacking the depth required to make them genuinely competitive, Platini has said a major change in policy might be only a few years away.

As part of their attempt to assess the implications of permitting difficult leagues to merge at the highest level, Uefa has sanctioned the women’s senior league in Belgium and the Netherlands to be played on a cross-border basis, with the leading teams from each country at the end of the campaign progressing to the Champions League.

At present the BeNe League project is intended to run for three years after which, Platini says, it will be assessed and a wider discussion can take place on the desirability of merging leagues elsewhere across Europe.

“We have to decide whether to allow two leagues to play together,” he said at a press conference in Monaco yesterday. “At the moment we don’t allow it but in the future it’s possible that we will.

“There are many things to be considered; it has an effect on European competitions and it’s really complicated but there are crises in many countries and so there are leagues that fear for their existence and so it is something that we need to consider.”

If the changes are ultimately approved, the transformation of club rugby in recent years could serve as a rough model, with clubs from participating countries, such as the “Celtic nations” forming a “superleague” style top flight with regional , or national, lower divisions and movement between the two via some form of promotion/relegation and play-offs.

Over the last few years a variety of proposals that included Norway, Denmark and Sweden as well as Scotland and possibly Ireland have been floated and Uefa could see such changes as a way of revitalising the professional game outside of the continent’s major leagues like England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.

“It’s an interesting experiment and something that everyone will be following with a lot of interest,” said Airtricity League director Fran Gavin yesterday.

But, he suggested, the FAI’s most immediate interest is its own women’s game.

“It’s an area that you might develop,” he said, “if you didn’t have enough teams or the required quality to develop the game here.”

Shamrock Rovers chairman Jonathan Roche was more taken with the possibilities for a senior men’s game that is embroiled in yet another, sometimes acrimonious, debate over league structures. “I think even without Scotland or Wales it could be a positive thing because it could open the door to an all-Ireland league,” he said. “I think the IFA are fairly attached to their national team and I can’t really see them letting it go but I think they’d be far more inclined to give up the league if it was all going to be done within the structures of Uefa.

“I know it’s a different sport but if you look at the RaboDirect Pro 12, I think you can see the wider possibilities and if Scotland were involved this could be far more than just a shot in the arm for the Irish game. They have a football industry over there and a game like Dundee United against Cork City would have a real appeal.”

Ultimately, the proposal could give rise to a number of regional leagues across the continent and might even result in some of the championships that were dismantled in the wake of the break up of Eastern Bloc being partially reconstituted. There, as here, more competitive games would be seen as a way of rekindling public interest in watching games live and generating greater revenues

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