Neil Doncaster warns Champions League could become like NFL

Neil Doncaster has warned that the Champions League could turn into an 'NFL-style closed shop'.

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has hit out at Uefa's reforms of the Champions League. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has hit out at Uefa's reforms of the Champions League. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

The SPFL chief executive has added his voice to concerns surrounding the reforms for European club football’s premier tournament.

Uefa announced last month that it would be giving four guaranteed Champions League group-stage places to the top four leagues – the Bundesliga, La Liga, the English Premier League and Serie A. It also plans to redistribute the prize money to better reward historic success in European football.

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But the umbrella organisation that represents European football’s professional leagues has angrily rejected the reforms.

In a move that will pitch the ‘haves’ against the ‘have nots’, European Professional Football Leagues’ board of directors has accused Uefa of breaching the terms of the deal that governs European club competitions.

And Doncaster shares their concerns.

“Notwithstanding the welcome retention of a route to the Champions League for the SPFL’s Ladbrokes Premiership winners, we absolutely share the EPFL’s disappointment about the regressive and protectionist direction of travel for the world’s most prestigious club competition,” Doncaster said.

“There needs to be a far stronger balance between sporting merit and commercial pressures, otherwise we risk an inexorable slide towards an NFL-style closed-shop system. We know that many of our counterparts in other countries share our concerns about the nature of the decision-making process and the lack of consultation with European leagues.

“Uefa has a duty to act on behalf of the entire game, not just a few, select clubs and leagues and it must take that duty far more seriously if it is not to risk presiding over a harmful fragmentation of the game.

“As we said recently, we will continue to be robust and forthright when required in fighting to protect the best interests of Scottish football on this issue, with today a strong demonstration that the majority of other European leagues share our view.”

The EPFL, which met on Thursday at Ajax’s De Toekomst headquarters in Amsterdam, says these reforms were made “without the support and consensus” from the domestic leagues.

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“This decision will have a detrimental impact on domestic competitions and will lead to an exponential growth in the financial and sporting gap between the biggest clubs in Europe and all the others,” a statement from the EPFL board of directors said.

“As a result of the decision taken by Uefa, the EPFL believes that Uefa has breached the Memorandum of Understanding between the two organisations.

“In the event that the EPFL were to terminate the MoU as a result of such breach, this would give all European leagues total freedom to schedule their matches as they see fit, including on the same days and at the same kick-off times as Uefa club competitions.”

Under current rules, no domestic games can be played in the same time slots as Champions League or Europa League games, which has meant British broadcasters have had to move cup replays or rearranged league fixtures to unusual times to avoid clashing with European games, even when there has been no domestic interest.

The EPFL threat to rip up this agreement comes a week before Uefa gathers in Athens to elect a new president. European football’s governing body has been in limbo since current incumbent Michel Platini was banned from all football activities for corruption last year.

The statement from EPFL’s board calls on the new president, who will be either Slovenia’s Aleksander Ceferin or Dutchman Michael van Praag, to reconsider the reforms and says the leagues are ready to meet him for urgent talks.