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Soccer official wants Champions League entry shared wider

February 18, 2021 GMT
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Liverpool's Mohamed Salah challenges for the ball with Leipzig's Lukas Klostermann during the Champions League round of 16, first leg, soccer match between RB Leipzig and Liverpool at the Ferenc Puskas stadium in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)
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Liverpool's Mohamed Salah challenges for the ball with Leipzig's Lukas Klostermann during the Champions League round of 16, first leg, soccer match between RB Leipzig and Liverpool at the Ferenc Puskas stadium in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)

GENEVA (AP) — With four places likely to be added to the Champions League starting in 2024, the president of the European Leagues group is working to ensure those extra spots go to smaller teams instead of more clubs in England or Spain.

UEFA is close to finalizing a plan that would increase the number of teams in the Champions League from 32 to 36, abolish the traditional group stage and give teams more money from 10 guaranteed games instead of six.

The latest proposal for adding teams would give one spot to the the third-place team in the fifth-ranked nation, currently France, plus three teams ranked highly by their UEFA coefficients that didn’t qualify.

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“It must not be allocated to one of the big five associations,” European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson said of the coefficient places Thursday at an online conference organized by the Financial Times, referring to England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France.

The 30-nation European Leagues group wants UEFA to share Champions League access and prize money more widely to help support domestic competitions, and avoid widening the wealth gap.

“We actually are preferring the champions from Scotland, Denmark or Switzerland, for example, to qualify rather than Team No. 6 from England or Spain,” Olsson said at the FT Business of Football meeting.

When Olsson spoke Thursday, the four teams hypothetically in line to benefit from the proposed new Champions League entry system were Lyon, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and — as a high-ranked national champion — Salzburg, according to league standings and UEFA rankings.

If Olsson’s preferred entry path applied today, the four would be Lyon plus the champions in the leagues ranked Nos. 11-13 by UEFA — Scotland, Ukraine and Turkey. The current leaders in those leagues are Rangers, Dynamo Kyiv and Galatasaray.

The European Leagues group is in a contest to influence UEFA with the European Club Association, which typically pushes for storied clubs to get a bigger share of entries and prize money. The ECA has said its top members “drive the value” of the Champions League, which will share almost 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) in prize money among 32 teams this season.

Olsson, a former UEFA chief executive, said the pending decision on competition changes was “probably the most important” since the Champions League format began in 1992.

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“The decision that’s made now will last for at least the coming decade, probably longer,” the Swedish official said.

A final agreement could be approved within weeks by the UEFA executive committee, which currently has 18 voting members, including Olsson and two ECA delegates.

Olsson said it should be decided by a broader base of all 55 UEFA member federations, who meet on April 20 in Montreux, Switzerland.

“We must do it right. The decision-making must be transparent,” he said, noting that how to distribute the increased future prize money is part of a separate process.

Olsson also said the UEFA proposal had good aspects and “can be a stabilizing factor for the entire market.”

However, he said adding 100 Champions League games to a 225-game format could “cannibalize” broadcast deals for national competitions, add to player workloads and squeeze domestic leagues and national teams in an already congested calendar.

“The fans have already said they don’t want any more European club matches,” Olsson said. “How do we take care of those concerns?”

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