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UEFA president wants lawmakers to help make soccer fairer

GENEVA (AP) — UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin challenged European lawmakers on Wednesday to help make the business of soccer fairer. In a speech to leaders of Europe's 55 national soccer bodies, Ceferin cited German Chancellor Angela Merkel among politicians who have criticized the sport's finances after a record offseason spending by wealthy clubs.

"To all European politicians, let me say that we cannot agree more," the UEFA president said. "But I cannot say that you have done much to help us set things straight so far. "We are imaginative and committed, and we are just waiting for the green light from those who publicly condemn the current situation but have yet to enable us to put it right," Ceferin said at UEFA's special congress in Geneva.

UEFA has set "competitive balance" among teams in its competitions as a priority. The Champions League is now seen as weighted too heavily toward the top-five wealthiest national leagues who dominate the entry lists and prize money shares.

"We are not naive to think Maribor can beat Real Madrid next year," Ceferin, a lawyer from Slovenia, said later at a news conference at UEFA headquarters in nearby Nyon. Still, labor and business laws enforced by the European Union prevent many of the "whole arsenal of concrete measures" that Ceferin identified as potential policies to slow down a widening gap between richer clubs and the rest.

They included salary caps, luxury tax, enforced squad limits, transfer reform, a clearing house to control money flows, limiting player agent fees, solidarity tax on transfers to fund women's soccer, limiting loans of players, and preventing ownership of more than one club.

"Salary cap is impossible, at least they (the EU) say it is impossible," Ceferin said at the news conference, though he hinted in his speech that lawmakers in Brussels were prepared to be flexible. FIFA President Gianni Infantino told reporters in a briefing that European lawmakers would be "well advised" to listen to a fresh approach from soccer leaders.

Infantino, a former UEFA general secretary who has experience of working within EU laws, said FIFA's stakeholder committee — including members drawn from clubs, leagues and players' unions worldwide — would be asked to discuss ideas for change. The panel next meets Oct. 19 in Zurich.

Spiraling commission fees to agents also created a problem that FIFA could tackle within its rules. "It is nothing illegal that has happened but from a perception, image point of view, it does not feel right," Infantino said.

In decisions by UEFA's executive committee Wednesday: - Atletico Madrid's new home, the 68,000-capacity Metropolitano Stadium, will host the 2019 Champions League final.

The Metropolitano was chosen ahead of the Olympic Stadium in Baku, which was rewarded with hosting the Europa League final. - The two finals will now be played in the same week: the Europa League on Wednesday, May 29, and the Champions League on Saturday, June 1.

The 2019 Super Cup game — played between the two cup winners — was awarded to the Besiktas Arena in Istanbul on Aug. 14, 2019. - UEFA set a Nov. 20 deadline for the delayed new stadium in Brussels to show progress, including "a realistic and guaranteed construction schedule," to remain among the 13 host venues for the 2020 European Championship.

UEFA will also assess Cardiff and Stockholm — losing bidders in 2014 — and Wembley Stadium in London, which will host the Euro 2020 semifinals and final, as possible replacements. Brussels is due to host three group-stage games and a Round of 16 game. A final decision is due Dec. 7 by UEFA's executive committee.

- UEFA signed a new working agreement with the European Professional Football Leagues group, and intends giving one of its delegates an executive committee place with voting rights.

- Ceferin was skeptical of the video review system which FIFA hopes will be used at the 2018 World Cup.

After controversies in German and Italian league games using the technology to help referees, Ceferin said the system "should be much clearer because it looks quite unclear now. The fans don't understand it."

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