On April 24, the UEC held their launch event in Brussels. After this event, we spoke to Dr. Katarina Pijetlovic, General Secretary of the newly founded organisation, aiming to represent all European football clubs.
By Quang T. Pham
About Union European Clubs (UEC)
Can you tell us about the Union of European Clubs (UEC)? When was it founded, and what is its mission?
The UEC was a bi-product of the European Leagues initiative called Club Advisory Platform (CAP) in 2019. That’s where I met Dennis Gudasic from FC Lokomotiva Zagreb, and we started talking about the issues and how to address them. The group started meeting at the end of 2020, and that is when the groundwork began up until the launch on April 24, 2023, in Brussels. The main mission of the organization is to reduce the concentration of power, which is now in the hands of a few elite clubs, by representing the interests of a vast majority of professional clubs in European football governance and to create a sustainable ecosystem in which those clubs can progress and thrive.
How does the UEC differ from the European Club Association (ECA)?
The UEC is an organisation that treats all its members equally and operates on a one-club-one-vote basis. All members have equal voting rights, and there is no hierarchy of membership. The power is not going to be in the hands of the elite clubs or a selected few because the Executive Board will be composed of 13 clubs of all sizes, geographically spread around Europe. The idea behind the UEC is to represent the interests of all professional clubs that are inadequately or not at all represented in the existing European governance structures. That description fits 90–95% of the professional clubs in Europe.
How many members does the UEC currently have, and how does its membership structure work?
At the moment, the UEC is in the process of incorporating in Belgium. This means that we cannot formally say we have members until this process is complete. For now, we have expressions of interest and membership applications. Membership is defined in our statutes rather liberally and inclusively, and it is open to all professional clubs playing in the divisions that qualify for UEFA Club Competitions. There is no hierarchy between the members. At our launch event in Brussels, we have gathered such a diverse group of clubs that you could see clubs from the very top leagues in Europe at the same table with the clubs from the lower-level leagues, all of them with an equal say.
UEC’s Action Plan
Can you explain how the UEC plans to provide a voice to the smaller clubs that are often left overlooked by the ECA?
Obviously, it will be important to grow the membership and be represented at the continental decision-making boards. Without the ability to have a meaningful voice in the governance, there is no ability for the clubs to progress in sporting and financial sense. Raising awareness among clubs is extremely important; a lot of them do not realise how the system works and what collective power they could exert in that system if they unionised. There are 1567 professional clubs in Europe, and well over 1400 cannot vote on the rules that directly affect them. We will provide professional services to the clubs to help them develop, and will engage in cooperation with the football stakeholders and the EU institutions.
How does the UEC plan to ensure that all clubs, regardless of their size, are adequately represented in the decision-making processes?
We do not aim to represent the elite clubs because it is incompatible with the goals of the organization. One organisation cannot effectively protect the interests of both elite and the rest of the football clubs because those interests are very often conflicting. We will have members of different sizes and financial abilities, but what makes the UEC unique is that we give equal importance to our members not just in our speeches and PR, but also under our statutes, in our governance and board structures where they decide together – this acknowledges that they are all a part of the same pyramid ecosystem in which all clubs should be given equal opportunities, starting with representation of their interests without subdividing them according to size.
What benefits can football clubs expect to gain from joining the UEC?
Any future UEC mandate will be driven by the clubs, and that will determine the benefits too. But in general, clubs can expect to have a fairer ecosystem in which they can thrive and progress. The UEC will not provide a quick fix or a change that can happen overnight. This is a project that requires a bit of time and a lot of work. The main thing is that we are now incorporated, we are gathering members, we have the support of the important football stakeholders and EU institutions, and are committed to continuing to work hard on achieving what we’re set to achieve for the benefit of all clubs, their communities, and their fans.
How does the UEC plan to work with FIFA, UEFA, and other football organizations to achieve its goals?
We have a lot of overlapping objectives with other stakeholders, including European Leagues, UEFA, and others. We plan to cooperate with all football stakeholders.
UEFA has demonstrated that they remain the guardians of the game if we want solidarity and sporting merit as key principles. In order for UEFA to fulfill its guardian role, the current model of club representation needs to be reviewed. The UEC should be embraced and not perceived as a threat to existing stakeholders’ rights but more so as a valuable partner, a counterbalance, helping UEFA fulfill its role as the protector of the game. Recent events have confirmed the weaknesses in the current system as to how clubs are represented at the stakeholder table. It is necessary to create fair and more clearly defined representational scope and responsibilities, reduce the concentration of power, and focus on creating a sustainable financial environment for clubs. The UEC believes this is achievable. European football has historically moved forward on the basis of establishing consensus. The whole evolution of the UEFA stakeholder engagement model is based on seeking accommodation with all stakeholders.
We operate the policies and objectives that overlap and align with UEFA’s own objectives, and at the same time, we have overlapping objectives with European Leagues, fan organisations, and many other stakeholders, including the EU sports policies set out by the EU institutions, from which we have full support. We have already held meetings with all the stakeholders, we keep in touch with them, and we have also had meetings with ECA. We are complementing ECA and not trying to replace it – ECA is a necessary and legitimate representative of the interests of elite clubs.
How does the current Memorandum of Understanding between UEFA and ECA affect the UEC’s ability to attract clubs to join its organization?
We will see in the future when we start signing up the members formally.
As I already mentioned, the two organisations, the UEC and the ECA, can work together alongside each other. Of course, the top clubs deserve a strong voice in the UEFA decision making process, they share a common interest and promote the game of football all over the world because they have a global following and feature the very best players in the world. ECA represents these clubs, and they deserve to be represented. But the remaining 1000 and more professional clubs in Europe also deserve a voice because they are a part of the same ecosystem and are subject to the same rules that govern clubs in that ecosystem. It is only right for these clubs to have influence over the rule-making processes. We don’t see any reason why UEFA would not accommodate both stakeholders and accept two representative organisations as is done in many other industries. This would be an honest acknowledgment of the reality, and there would be no more need for pretending. ECA has publicly recognised that it is become impossible for them to represent all clubs because they are so extremely diverse. ECA representing the elite market participants, and UEC representing the rest, can work in football as it works in many other industries. It would be a much fairer representative and governance structure comparing to what we have now. There is a lot of scope for UEC and ECA to cooperate as well – for example, both organisations are opposed to A22 and Super League project.
Can you tell us about the UEC’s plans for 2023 and the coming years?
There are a lot of moving parts. Our long-term plans fit our organisational objectives, but I do not wish to be more specific at this point. But short-term, this year, we will be engaging with clubs and other stakeholders and organising General Assembly to elect our first Executive Board – the Board is where our mandate and approval of our long-term plans should come from.
Where do you see the UEC and European football in general in the next five to ten years?
Hopefully, we are going in the right direction with the UEC by the decision-making tables and having the same say as the ECA. There is nothing that can change the future direction of football as much as changing the existing representational structures for professional clubs. Rules made by all will serve all. Rules made by a few will serve those few. It is really that simple.