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Playing Fair? Karl-Heinz Rummenigge Interview

Fri 21st Mar 2014 | Football Governance

For many in the football world, the issue of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is high on the agenda.

This year, perhaps, it is not merely high but top of the agenda for the group that, arguably, will be the most affected from a timing switch from the northern hemisphere summer to winter: the European Club Association (ECA).

Under the stewardship of former Germany international and current Bayern Munich CEO, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the association has evolved out of the old, ‘exclusive’ G14 to a membership now of 214 clubs.

All will be watching intently this year as a FIFA task force examines the possible repercussions of a World Cup switch, because it would impact on the league calendar for up to three years or more. For Rummenigge, the options have been closely scrutinised already.

He said: “We in the ECA analysed the calendar, what is logical and what would probably be the best dates and I believe there are two dates to regard: The first is the November date which has been announced recently by Mr [Jerome] Valcke [FIFA secretary-general] and the second date is January which would be possible but which is, of course, a problem for the International Olympic Committee and organising the Winter Olympics.

“So we have to be very careful to choose the right dates because I, personally, believe the summer dates are not ideal to host a World Cup in a country like Qatar.”

Concern is obviously high for players who are not used to playing in the searing heat, despite the host nation’s promises about stadium cooling.

One of the biggest opponents to a change of dates has been the English Premier League which fears the disruption to the season, a fear with which Rummenigge empathises.

“The Premier League is still No1 in the world, so there is a reason for the clubs and Richard Scudamore, the CEO, to heavily discuss and question every possible change from summer to winter or maybe November or January, how that would affect our business, our leagues and our clubs.

“We have to be very careful and I agree with Mr Scudamore that FIFA has to regard the leagues and the clubs and how we are affected by changing the dates.”

Rummenigge was particularly sympathetic about the issue of the ‘Boxing Day football fans’ in the UK. But even though discussions have yet to take place between the task force and the ECA, a switch looks a fait accompli since it carries with it massive support from UEFA and the European federation’s President, Michel Platini.

The two bodies have a good working relationship with a new memorandum of understanding signed in March 2012. Rummenigge said: “Mr Platini gives us a sign that he understands club football because he played at the highest level possible and he understands the needs, the problems, and the wishes of our clubs so I’m convinced that we will continue in this style and have this kind of relationship.”

However, while cordial relations are being enjoyed between the ECA and UEFA, the same cannot be said for relations with FIFA - though Rummenigge was at pains to point out that this relationship is not “difficult” but simply “neutral,” a position appropriate to diplomacy in Switzerland.

The issue of remuneration to clubs for player availability during a World Cup was highlighted in the 2013 ECA annual report. But with an increase in the club compensation available from this year’s finals in Brazil, there is light on the horizon. Rummenigge noted that clubs will receive “$70 million US” though even that agreement does not totally satisfy.

“I always see this amount as a first step in the right direction but if you regard the total income of the World Cup this is a relatively small amount. But FIFA needs the clubs and our players: in the last World Cup in South Africa in 2010, from all parties who sent players, 75% were contracted to clubs in Europe.”

The wealth in modern football is like an octopus that stretches its limbs into every aspect of the game. This year will see the first results of the initial implementations of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, approved in concept in 2009. Despite Platini’s wish to create a more even playing field for clubs of varying riches, the early signs do not reflect that. Transfer records have been broken consistently in recent years and the correlation between money and success has grown ever more signifycant.

“I believe football is a bit out of rationality,” said Rummenigge, with concern clear in his voice. “I agree with the fact that if you look at the transfers every year we’re still in a growing process, more money being spent on transfer fees, more money spent on salaries.

“I have no problem if the money is seriously earned and the money is coming from serious sources and earned by the clubs themselves.

“But I believe in the wording of financial fair play. Fair play means we have to try to come back to a rational way of working – a fair way - instead of working in a way that is not actually fair.”

The ultimate punishment for flouting the regulations would be a ban from playing in European competitions. Such punishments have already been handed out to a number of clubs which did not fulfil the criteria of being up-to-date with, for example, transfer payments.

But punishment is something of which Rummenigge freely admits he is “not a fan,” adding: “I believe we have to find penalties that are strong and at the end accepted by all clubs.”

As the ECA gears up to its General Assembly in Barcelona this month, the mood for growth is optimistic. But the Bayern Munich chief was careful to address the need to avoid any conflict of interest between clubs of varying size.

He said: “We have always been very careful because we have to care about the interests of not just the big clubs, but also the interests of the mid-size and smaller clubs, and we have always found workable tools.

“For example; we increased the solidarity fee in favour of the leagues to 6.5% of total income from the Champions League and last year subsidised the Europa League with €50m from the Champions League club share in order to reduce the big financial gap between the two competitions. 

“We try to be very careful and try to find solidarity rules in favour of the smaller clubs and I believe that will be one of the main policies in the future. In particular, we need to reinforce the Europa League.”

Also, in the future, while the ECA focuses on Qatar 2022 and financial fair play, it will also keep a keen eye on the latest developments in the FIFA presidential election race.

The footballing world was slightly caught off guard by former FIFA official, Jerome Champagne’s candidacy launch in January – 18 months before the election in May 2015. Not least his old German acquaintance. Rummenigge said: “I was very surprised, and I don’t know what the reason is behind it. The last time I met him was at the last FIFA World Cup in South Africa so I haven’t met him in a long time.

“But I have to ask him next time I meet him what is the reason; it’s not easy to understand to make such an early move. But we will see . . .”

This sixth year of its existence could be the ECA’s most challenging to date.

Taken from fcbusiness Issue 75 Click Here to view the full digital magazine

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