Aleksander Čeferin, one of world football’s most senior officials, thinks Brexit and Donald Trump could damage Britain and America’s chances of hosting a big tournament.
The New York Times interviewed Čeferin, vice-president of world football governing body FIFA, and president of UEFA, European football’s administrative body.
In an unusual political intervention, the Slovenian raised concerns about the impact of immigration policies on football. Čeferin said:
- Hardline Brexit policies could stop UEFA staging showpiece events, like the Champions League final or European Championship, in the UK.
- US President Trump’s immigration ban ambitions may damage the country’s hopes of landing the rights to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
British stadiums have regularly been picked to host the Champions League denouement, with the 2011 and 2013 finals taking place at Wembley. This year’s final will be hosted at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.
Čeferin said if immigration rules after Brexit make it tougher for fans and players to enter the UK, then UEFA would have to reconsider using Wembley and the Millennium Stadium as two of their premier arenas.
Čeferin referenced the example of Paris Saint-Germain full-back Serge Aurier, who was refused entry to the UK in November when the French team was due to face Arsenal in a Champions League group game earlier this season.
The Ivorian international was given a two-month suspended prison sentence in September for assaulting a police officer, but PSG was adamant that UK authorities had granted Aurier a Visa and, as such, their player should have been allowed to pass through customs.
“I was very disappointed when Aurier was not allowed to enter England [and] that will worsen when ‘Brexit’ happens,” Čeferin said.
Čeferin said the problem could be “serious” as there are a number of other high-profile players with “procedures ongoing” like Neymar, the Brazil superstar whose 2013 transfer to FC Barcelona has long been engulfed in legal issues, and Lionel Messi, who was implicated in a tax fraud case last year.
“Neymar and Messi both have procedures going on. This year, the Champions League final is in Cardiff. Imagine if they did not let them in,” he said.
The crux of the problem for Čeferin is “if players from England can travel anywhere but players from other teams cannot travel to England.” He concluded: “If Brexit happens then it can be a big problem for fans [but] we will speak to the British government and I am sure the FA will help us.”
The Trump travel ban problem
Russia will host the 2018 World Cup, while Qatar won the 2022 bid. In theory, a nation from the Americas could be preferred for 2026, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino implying to ESPN that a joint bid from Canada, the US and Mexico could be “ideal” as the World Cup will have expanded to include 48 teams.
However, Trump’s ambition to ban immigrants arriving from majority-Muslim nations could see FIFA favour other options as “[travel restrictions] will be part of the evaluation,” according to Čeferin. “I am sure it will not help the United States get the World Cup,” he said. One of the countries potentially disqualified from temporary travel to the US includes Iran, a country with a national team managed by Sir Alex Ferguson’s former
One of the countries potentially disqualified from temporary travel to the US includes Iran, a country with a national team managed by Carlos Queiroz, Sir Alex Ferguson’s former right-hand man at Manchester United.
Iran is one of the most successful Asian sides ever with a host of regional cup wins, successful qualifications to four World Cup competitions, and one notable tournament victory over the USA (a 2-1 group stage triumph in 1998).
A travel ban involving Iran not only affects football players but also coaches, medical professionals, general staff, journalists and, of course, fans.
“If players cannot come because of political decisions, or populist decisions, then the World Cup cannot be played there,” said Čeferin. “It is the World Cup. [Fans and journalists] should be able to attend the event, whatever their nationality is. But let’s hope that it does not happen.”
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