At UEFA summit, Platini mulls FIFA ambitions
16 September 2013, 17:57
Geneva - A fascinating week for European football will likely leave the question of Michel Platini's ambitions to lead FIFA unanswered.
On the field, Bayern Munich begins the defense of its Champions League title on Tuesday when contenders like Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus and Paris Saint-German also begin their campaigns.
At the same time, Platini - the UEFA president and widely presumed FIFA heir - begins hosting a four-day summit of 54 member federations, plus power brokers from wealthy European clubs and leagues. In Dubrovnik, they will debate two of football's biggest games of political intrigue.
By Friday, UEFA hopes to find a common position on FIFA President Sepp Blatter's intention to switch the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from the searing summer heat to cooler months.
Still, despite a recent teasing interview, getting definite answers on Platini's expected plan to succeed his former mentor at FIFA in 2015 might be elusive in Dubrovnik, the beautiful city on the Adriatic coast of Croatia.
"I will certainly say something at Dubrovnik," Platini told French sports daily L'Equipe last month. "I'm obliged to because everybody expects me to explain myself."
Still, few expect Platini to declare his intentions publicly to stand in an election scheduled for May 2015 when Blatter so clearly still controls the levers of FIFA power.
Dubrovnik is an appropriate setting, even though it lacks a club in top-level Croatian football, let alone one which could compete in the Champions League.
The photogenic walled city also doubles as the filming location for King's Landing, the seat of power in the global TV hit "Game of Thrones."
The UEFA meetings are private affairs, and Blatter will not attend the main gathering on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The 77-year-old Blatter has devoted half his life to FIFA and relishes his international status. On Saturday, he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a World Cup sponsor signing event in Sochi.
For Platini to directly challenge Blatter or force his hand would appear disrespectful, even reckless. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is a more natural place for presidential politics.
On the eve of the 2010 World Cup, Blatter used his closing speech at the FIFA Congress in Johannesburg to seek his members' support for a fourth term.
"I have seen the reaction and I am very happy. I can't say it is the last one," Blatter said later at a news conference, also quoting Winston Churchill to explain why he should stay in office.
Of course, most European officials gathering this week also heard Blatter tell them in March 2011 in Paris that he would not stay at FIFA beyond 2015.
Blatter told The Associated Press last month, after a Sunday morning meeting with Platini, what he hoped UEFA would discuss in Dubrovnik.
"He asked me to give him some items to be discussed there," Blatter said, explaining that Platini wanted to prepare UEFA's position for the next FIFA board meeting on Oct. 3-4, which is expected to agree on the 2022 switch in principle.
A worldwide consultation on when to play could take several months.
Blatter suggested the Qatar question and how UEFA must enact the same anti-corruption reforms FIFA has passed.
"It cannot just stay at the FIFA, it must be implemented," Blatter said. "I told him (Platini), 'Asia, they have already decided to have an ethics committee.'"
Blatter noted a third agenda item — setting age- and term-limits on football officials which, to Platini and UEFA's evident frustration, was unfinished business at the FIFA congress in May.
The Qatar issue will be formally debated Thursday morning by the strategy council - a policy group including four delegates each from UEFA's executive committee, the European Club Association (ECA), European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) and the European division of FIFPro, the global network of players' unions.
"We will discuss Qatar. It's good that everyone is there and can give their view," UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said at an ECA meeting last week.
A united UEFA voice will be achieved from compromise rather than consensus behind Platini. He favors both Qatar and a switch to winter, although he prefers a January kickoff while Blatter suggests November.
The leagues strongly oppose a winter World Cup, FIFPro leaders have supported it and the ECA has views on both sides.
The debate is not simple and delegates sympathetic to Qatar, like ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, question why it is even happening now — at Blatter's urging — when 2022 World Cup organizers insist they can fulfill their original summer hosting promise.
"I don't understand why FIFA would like to do an early decision," Rummenigge, the chairman of Champions League winner Bayern Munich, said last week.
Qatar's critics might hope that changing the 2022 terms and conditions could trigger legal challenges to re-open the bidding contest. Qatar beat the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea in a December 2010 vote of FIFA board members.
However, simply having the debate exposes divisions among Platini's stakeholders. Also, requests to protect schedules of the Champions League and English Premier League - competitions more valuable over four years than FIFA's prized World Cup — could make European football appear greedy and entitled while its elected leader is positioning to lead the world game.
Platini is certainly being kept busy dealing with his football family at home this week. Perhaps FIFA can wait.
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