- Associated Press - Thursday, June 1, 2017

CARDIFF, Wales — Europe is challenging China’s pursuit of the 2030 World Cup, with UEFA announcing Thursday that it deserves to host the tournament.

The 2018 tournament is being staged in Russia, but the next two editions are away from Europe as Qatar is the 2022 host and North America is likely to be awarded the 2026 event.

“It is Europe’s turn in 2030, clearly,” UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said Thursday. “So we will fight for a European host.”

UEFA’s aspirations will face a serious challenge from China, where President Xi Jinping has made it a priority to increase the country’s influence in global soccer. Three of the World Cup sponsors to sign up in the last two years are from China, with smartphone and software maker Vivo the latest on Wednesday.

China is eager to mount a bid to host the World Cup for the first time despite current rules effectively blocking another Asian bid before the 2034 edition.

A more sentimental bid is likely to come from South America. Uruguay, which staged the first World Cup in 1930, is keen on celebrating the centenary of the soccer showpiece by co-hosting with Argentina.

The 2030 tournament is unlikely to be awarded for at least five years, with FIFA’s decision on the 2026 edition expected to come next year, with confirmation of the United States-Canada-Mexico proposal.

Ceferin was speaking after a meeting of UEFA’s executive committee in Cardiff where the Champions League is being played on Saturday between Juventus and Real Madrid. Here are some other talking points:

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GULF

Ceferin is concerned that the financial disparities in Europe see the same teams reaching the closing stages of the Champions League every season. Real Madrid was in the 2014 and 2016 finals, and emerged victorious on both occasions, while Juventus contested the 2015 final.

“It’s not easy to qualify for small clubs, but it is still possible,” Ceferin said. “We all know the gap is wider and wider and we are working on it with Financial Fair Play. But it’s far from a closed league, far from only an elite competition.”

From the 2018-19 season, though, the major European leagues will gain more guaranteed Champions League group stage places. England, Spain, Italy and Germany will receive four spots each.

But Ceferin said UEFA is working to ensure cash from the competition is distributed more equitably across Europe.

“We will discuss about distribution,” said the Slovenian, who succeeded Michel Platini as head of European soccer last year. “It’s a goal to do it, because if we don’t do it then we cannot develop football in every single country in Europe, and that’s our task. So we are working on it every single day. It’s one of the priorities.”

AWARDS

UEFA is going to start honoring the top retired players who have played in Europe in a hall of fame.

“We will spend the next few months creating all the criteria and we’re sure that many players who played in Europe and finished their fantastic careers deserve a place in the hall of fame,” Ceferin said.

Ceferin also announced that the UEFA president’s award this year is going to Francesco Totti to recognize his 25-season career with Roma.

“He leaves a unique legacy and it is one that should be cherished,” Ceferin said.

VIDEO TECHNOLOGY

UEFA has no plans to introduce video replays in the Champions League next season. The governing body is awaiting the outcome of FIFA’s trials with the technology, including at the Confederations Cup in Russia later this month.

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