Graham Bean: Sporting integrity lost in bid to make rich richer

Matches like this 2013 clash between Celtic and Barcelona could become a thing of the past if the Champions League is restructured. Picture: Robert Perry

Matches like this 2013 clash between Celtic and Barcelona could become a thing of the past if the Champions League is restructured. Picture: Robert Perry

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When Gabriel Hanot came up with the idea of a knockout competition for Europe’s champion clubs Uefa was initially unimpressed.

Hanot, a journalist with the sports daily L’Equipe and a former French international, persisted. He invited clubs from 18 nations to attend a meeting in 1955 and the European Cup was hatched. Fifa, fearing a threat to its authority, gave it the green light and Uefa soon came on board.

Sixty years on, the Champions League is the cash cow which fuels European football, with BT Sport paying £897 million to broadcast the competition exclusively.

Sporting integrity has been preserved, but only just. The competition is no longer just for champions and it is structured in a way to give clubs from big nations the best possible chance of winning. But it is still open to champion clubs from smaller countries, albeit through pre-qualifying.

Now, even that is in danger of being lost in the clamour for a breakaway league which would turn the competition into a closed shop.

The idea that clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City and AC Milan could miss out on next season’s Champions League has focused minds.

Charlie Stillitano, a US sports executive who organises a pre-season tournament featuring Europe’s top clubs, is involved in the restructuring talks.

Stillitano likes closed competitions. He talks about franchises. He’s not so keen on PSV and Ghent being involved in the Champions League. Bad for business.

The essence of sport is in danger of being lost in the rush to push through a European Super League which would make the rich richer and crush Hanot’s concept. It should be resisted.

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