AP interview: UEFA wants politics out of Albanian soccer

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said his concerns about political interference in Albanian soccer elections were alleviated after meeting with the country’s prime minister on Thursday.

Ceferin also committed to staging the inaugural Europa Conference League final in Tirana after a meeting with Prime Minister Edi Rama and officials from the Albanian Football Federation, or FSHF.

An explosion shook the home of federation president Armand Duka in January without causing injuries. Duka is up for re-election next month for a sixth four-year term but said he has also received life-threatening text messages asking him to resign. The election has also sparked a clash between Duka and Tirana city hall, which has accused Duka of corruption.

UEFA had warned of “political interference in the running of the Albanian federation” and questioned whether it would be safe to stage the Europa Conference League final in Albania. But Ceferin said he was satisfied with the assurances he received from Rama on both counts.

“I agreed with the prime minister that there will be no governmental interference, that football will decide about football and that’s what we want,” Ceferin told The Associated Press. “We want fair elections. We don’t want any interference from any side.”

However, he added that the European governing body will still send observers to make sure the elections are held without being influenced by outsiders.

“Everything has to be transparent and with good governance,” he said.

The final of the Europa Conference League, a third-tier competition that made its debut this season, will be held May 25 in Tirana as planned, Ceferin said.

“The final here is safe and we are looking forward because it’s the first final of Europa Conference League in history,” he said.

Rama also struck an upbeat tone after the talks.

“Today’s meeting with the UEFA president could not have been better for our joint goal of holding in Tirana the first European final, and also holding a reliable process for all sides involved in the FSHF’s new election,” Rama tweeted.

Ceferin also repeated his opposition to FIFA’s plans for a biennial World Cup, saying the proposal is “nonsense.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has insisted that staging the World Cup every two years instead of every four years will allow more countries to qualify and create more interest and revenue.

“The idea is against football, against men’s and women’s football. It’s against the Olympic sports,” Ceferin said. ”So I don’t think it can ever happen.”

FIFA’s plans have also been opposed by South America’s soccer confederation which has said there is “no chance” that such a proposal will go through.


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