The president of Uefa, Aleksander Ceferin, has warned against fixating on “dark scenarios” over the spread of coronavirus, even as it was revealed that Scotland’s manager, Steve Clarke, would not be attending Tuesday’s Uefa Nations League draw because of fears over the disease.
Although sporting events around the world have been postponed or cancelled owing to the virus, Uefa continues to insist that its competitions – including the men’s European Championship, which is due to begin in 101 days – are to continue as planned.
Speaking here at Uefa’s annual congress Ceferin called on football’s stakeholders to be “optimistic”, as he gave an assertive address on Uefa’s future direction, interpreted by many as a swipe at Fifa and its president, Gianni Infantino.
“We are dealing with it and we are confident that we can deal with it,” Ceferin said when asked about the virus and its effects on Uefa competitions. “You don’t know how many big concerns we have: we have security concerns, political instability and one is also the virus. Let’s try to be optimistic, not think about dark scenarios – there’s time for that later.”
Uefa’s plans for the European Championship and fixtures in the Champions League and Europa League remain unchanged, but its general secretary Theodore Theodoridis revealed that a consultation group had been formed with European leagues to monitor the situation.
“We are addressing the situation, maintaining contact with the World Health Organisation and different governments,” he said. “We have to deal with it case by case; we do not want to overreact. Yesterday we had a meeting with European Leagues to create a coordination group to find a possible solution.”
Meanwhile the Scottish Football Association confirmed that Clarke would not be here for the draw. “On the back of the first response meeting, it was determined by the group that the national coach attending was an unnecessary risk,” a spokesperson said.
Earlier Ceferin had given his annual address to Uefa members which contained a bullish assessment of the organisation’s strengths as it continues its struggle for control over football with the world governing body, Fifa.
Ceferin admitted that Uefa must do more to combat racism in the game but went on to describe football as a “social movement” before saying his organisation must put “purpose before power” and use its rapidly growing revenues to better the game across the continent.
These remarks were interpreted as a response to Infantino’s suggestion that Fifa’s Club World Cup tournament, seen by Uefa as a possible rival to the Champions League, was designed with the purpose of helping less prosperous football nations.
In addressing racism in the game, Ceferin said: “Many of us have been sickened by what we have witnessed in a number of European stadiums this season. The problem is not on the pitch, where diversity is greater than in any other sport and probably any other part of society. The problem is in our societies. And this has to stop.
“We must begin by applying the rules we already have. That would be a good starting point. That means applying the three-step procedure. We must not be afraid to do so. Everywhere. No exceptions. But … we need to do more. More, and perhaps differently. So we that can be proud of ourselves.”
Ceferin said in apparent reference to an expanded Club World Cup, which he strongly opposes: “The football pyramid is delicate and must not be knocked off balance. Certain projects, some devised on other continents with the backing of governing bodies, are particularly worrying.
“If our success enables us to ward off threats that appear on the horizon, we can be proud. These threats are alarming. And we need to anticipate the worst if we are to prevent it. When purpose over profit becomes profit over purpose, it is time to raise the alarm. Football is not simply a business like any other.”