ECA General Assembly - Keynote Speech from Chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi

Published September 6th, 2021 - 06:54 GMT
Nasser Ghanim Al-Khelaifi (Photo: beIN Sports)
Nasser Ghanim Al-Khelaifi (Photo: beIN Sports)

The General Assembly of The European Club Association (ECA) – representing all 247 professional football clubs of Europe – opened this afternoon in Geneva.

The Assembly was opened by an Address from the new ECA Chairman, Nasser Ghanim Al-Khelaifi (who is also Group Chairman of beIN MEDIA GROUP).

The Qatari businessman said:

On behalf of the ECA Executive Board, I wish you a very warm welcome to the 26th General Assembly of the European Club Association.  I would like to especially welcome and congratulate our new board members who were appointed in June:- Dan Friedkin from AS Roma, Fernando Carro from Bayer Leverkusen, and Oleg Petrov from AS Monaco.

For this General Assembly, we are so happy that so many of you are here; some invited for the first time.  Also for the first time ever, there are no closed sessions to our General Assembly which is deliberate – this is the new ECA. 

It is almost two years since we last met in-person at a General Assembly before the world changed dramatically with the pandemic.  We have all faced many challenges during this time – personally and professionally.  However, simply by being together today, representing 247 clubs of Europe, I feel a sense of renewed hope and purpose for our organization, and for the European football family.

It is a true honor to be Chairman of the ECA.  Despite it not being a role I sought, in times of crisis we all have to step up, to take responsibility, to do what we can to make our game better; and I am here to represent every single member – all 247 clubs – big and small.  Thank you for your trust.

To begin, first I invite UEFA President to address the ECA. 

President Ceferin, thank you for being here, it means a lot.  You have given us much to consider, which we will discuss during our plenary sessions later today and tomorrow.

Ladies and gentlemen, before we look forward, we need to briefly look back.  I will not spend much time talking about the 18th of April, and the “not-so-Super League” because I do not like to focus on fabulists and failures. 

Together, we defended the interests of European football for everyone – for the players, the Clubs, the Leagues, the National Associations, and most of all, the fans.  

We relied on the resolve and strength of President Ceferin, who stood up to the midnight coup – and people with short memories should remember that this is exactly what it was.  You all should know, that President Ceferin was confident from the start.  We spoke early in the morning on the 18th of April, and he said, “we will win”.  And we did.  Thank you, President Ceferin.

And while the three rebel-Clubs waste energies, twist narratives and continue to shout at the sky, the rest of us are moving forward and focusing every energy on building a better future for European football – together as one.

As you know, for the 9 Clubs who asked to come back into our family, the ECA Board has re-integrated them into our structures with renewed commitments to strengthen our Association.  I welcome them back to the ECA-family.

And now, looking ahead, to meet the challenges currently facing European football, the ECA needs to evolve with a stronger purpose.  We want the ECA to be the heart of European football – a purposeful and powerful stakeholder driving the agenda and development of a united European football family.  We also want the ECA to represent and support more and more European Professional Football Clubs so we truly represent the interests of all.

To achieve this, we need to repair and strengthen European football by starting with the following 5 strategic priorities.

Financial Stability of European Football

The first priority is to bring urgent financial stability to European football.  Even before COVID, many financial problems affected football. However, the pandemic has magnified them all. 

We are all facing this new COVID reality today – every single club is feeling the pain; big clubs and small clubs, from all parts of Europe.  During the two pandemic seasons, there has been billions of losses in revenues in European football – and we are not through the woods this season either.  If we don’t act soon, the damage will be impossible to reverse.

So what role can the ECA play?

To start with, the ECA is working hand-in-hand with UEFA to put in place a multi-billion Euro debt fund to allow clubs of all tiers to accelerate their recovery from the financial devastation of COVID.  We know the need from our members is significant; and we have fought strongly for this project.  I would like all of your support so we can quickly put the closing elements in place with UEFA.  We can then provide simple and fast support to help overcome the liquidity crisis that is still engulfing our clubs and the communities they support.

In addition, as we look to avoid financial trouble in the future beyond the COVID crisis, an emergency UEFA-ECA fund for future crises is being examined.  Further, the ECA has also championed a separate initiative to re-distribute around 50 million Euros per year more of solidarity money for the benefit of smaller clubs not participating in European Club Competition…smaller clubs need this extra money.  This is what I mean by saying the ECA represents the interests of all.

Finally, new Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations will be put in place with the objective for European club football to remain at the pinnacle of sport & entertainment, but while also ensuring a stable, sustainable, inclusive and competitive Football Pyramid.

All these measures are vital to ensure that financial and economic sustainability return to all levels of European football.  The ECA will continue to work closely with UEFA and relevant stakeholders to shape these plans, which will be discussed at UEFA’s Convention on the Future of Football later this week.  This is our number one priority.      

Stronger ECA Relationships

Our second priority is to make the ECA’s relationships stronger across the entire football family, particularly with UEFA. 

As an organization, we will always have direct and honest conversations with UEFA on many topics; and while we will disagree on some things, we must never lose sight of the common interest that binds us.  European Football’s future is dependent on this.  We have a duty to find solutions to the common problems we face because we share the same objectives and goals.  After all, the ECA and UEFA share the same vision – we both believe football is for everyone – we are two sides of the same coin, not two different coins. 

What does this mean practically? 

Most pressingly, we need to work with UEFA to better optimize revenues from club competitions.  To that end, as you know, we have recently negotiated a Letter Of Intent with UEFA to establish a new model for commercializing UEFA Club Competitions.  This new model will be a joint-venture between the ECA and UEFA with ultimate responsibility for the business and commercial side of the club competitions, resulting in new and better commercial rights strategies and management.

In addition, we will also work with UEFA on ways to maximize the value of the new post-2024 format – known as “the Swiss model” – and to improve club relationships with national associations, which is in everyone’s interests.

The ECA also needs to work more closely with other stakeholders.  And we will.  We have important challenges to solve…the most urgent of which is the International Match Calendar – this needs honest engagement, not unilateral and self-interested decisions.  Over-scheduled and disrupted matches put the players’ health and wellbeing at risk – and the Clubs bear all the risk.  Agreements and MOUs should not be broken – integrity and trust are important values.  Our Club Leagues have stakeholders who count on the vital revenue from League matches at the local level; and international competition cannot suffocate fans’ and players’ connections to Clubs, without which international competition wouldn’t exist.  This issue is critical for the clubs, the players and the fans.

Meaningful ECA member-benefits

The third priority is to make the ECA work better for its members – to provide valuable resources for the clubs.  We should ask ourselves, what should the ECA provide for its members?  For me, right now, not enough.  This needs to change.  

The ECA has huge unfulfilled potential to help clubs in more concrete ways.  We need to become a centralized hub of excellence – a provider of the best club management expertise on the market.  This means providing medical, legal, scouting, youth development and networking advice and opportunities.  It means creating best-in-class courses for sports management.  It means thinking out of the box.

For example, let me ask you…  How can we use our masses of collective data and our social media platforms to generate more revenues for us all?  Digital is the future.  How can we make match-days a destination – blending entertainment with sport to appeal to new audiences? 

Change is happening already.  At Istanbul’s Board Meeting last month, it was approved that the ECA will be forming a “Football Advisory Panel” of ex-players, ex-coaches and ex-managers – some of the greatest minds and experience within football.  Retired players, coaches and managers are constantly asking me how they can help, and now their input will help guide our footsteps as we strengthen European football.

To make this step-change within the ECA a reality, we need your help.  I would like everyone to be involved…not just the management or the Board.  For the ECA to better-serve its members, by definition we need input and contribution from everyone.   

Diversity & Inclusion – reflecting all of Europe

The fourth pillar is that diversity and inclusion need to be at the core of our new ECA.  This could be one of our greatest potential strengths but currently we are falling short. 

If we want the ECA to be a force for change in European football, we need the ECA to reflect all of Europe. 

First, the only way to truly include everyone is to remove politics from football and to put an end to racism.  President Ceferin, we are aligned with UEFA on this topic.

In addition, reflecting all of Europe means investing more in women’s football, rather than it being treated as a separate tier or an after-thought.  As you know, starting this new cycle, Men’s European Football will invest more in the UEFA Women’s Champions League every year – this needs to be the first step of many.

We should also focus on developing youth football programs in all 247 Clubs and all new network-club members.  As I just mentioned, our new “Football Advisory Panel” of ex-players, coaches and managers can help our Clubs develop the next generation of footballers; and we are also working with UEFA on various youth projects, for instance on the UEFA Youth League task force.

Further, the reforms that we push for in European football need to be focused more around the principle of inclusion.  The new UEFA Europa Conference is a fantastic example of this, with European competitions now more inclusive for more clubs than ever before – today 20% more teams participate in the Group Stages of the European Club Competitions.  This is a great example of the ECA and UEFA working hand-in-hand. 

In addition, I am happy to announce that the ECA Board has approved the expansion of our membership to include more professional clubs in our ECA-network, so the ECA can be a resource for more European professional clubs.  

I would like the General Assembly’s support for this initiative, and I would like to give a moment of thanks to the hard work of ExCo and the ECA Board on these initiatives.

Renewed ECA / European Football Spirit & Values

Finally, a priority that some people think is invisible, but it should be visible in everything we do: the underlying spirit and values of our organization and European football. 

The “not-Super League” was defeated was through integrity, togetherness, and protecting the interests of every member of our European football community.  These values need to define the ECA every single day. 

Every club is respected equally at the ECA.  And sporting merit based on open competition has been the foundation of our system – clubs of all sizes deserve a chance to chase their dream in open competition.  These values can never be compromised. 

In addition, once the Clubs agree on something at the ECA, we will stand by our word.

As you all know, football clubs are not ordinary businesses, they play a huge social and civic role in their local communities.  And at the heart of every club, big and small, are the fans.  Fans are the engine of football, and they need to be protected.  Without them, football is not the same.  We should never forget that.

These are the strategic priorities that will make European football stronger in the face of all our current challenges.

We will shortly begin our program of events for today and tomorrow, including various plenary sessions and our ECA Awards tomorrow, which celebrate all our members not just the winners.  Unlike previous years, we will not break into subdivisions or closed groups because I want us to be together as one ECA.

However, before we begin our program, I want to say one final thing.  Over the past few months, European football has faced challenges like never before.  People have tried to divide us; they have tried to separate us; they have tried to make us weaker.  They have failed.

In fact, they have achieved the exact opposite – they brought us together. They have made us stronger.

And if all of us continue to work together with integrity; fully committed to our ideals; fully committed to each other as fellow clubs; and fully committed to the ECA, then European football can only flourish. 

This is my one request I ask of all you…to work together as a one family, and if we do that, then the future of European football could not be brighter.

Thank you. 


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