LJUBLJANA, Slovenia – UEFA announced the venues for three upcoming UEFA Champions League finals and stepped into the global politics of women’s rights by urging European soccer teams not to play in countries where female fans are barred from stadiums.
The Champions League finals from 2021 through 2023 will be played in St. Petersburg, Munich and London, the UEFA executive committee decided Tuesday.
On women’s rights, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin also used a news conference to call out 55 member federations “not to play (in countries) or with the teams of those countries where the basic rights of women are not respected.”
The stance could affect plans for Saudi Arabia to host the Italian Super Cup, between Juventus and Lazio, in December or January. Juventus president Andrea Agnelli is a member of Ceferin’s executive committee and leads the European Club Association, which Ceferin said supported the initiative.
“We cannot punish anyone,” Ceferin acknowledged, adding that Europe’s top clubs and leagues backed the advice. “That doesn’t mean we should be quiet and shouldn’t do anything.”
UEFA’s tougher line comes as FIFA pushes for assurances from Iran that women will be allowed to attend a World Cup qualifying game in Tehran on Oct. 10.
The decision on Champions League final venues confirmed a report by The Associated Press last month that UEFA would focus on long-term planning for the biggest game in world soccer. It has typically awarded the hosting rights one year at a time.
The finals will be played at the home stadiums of Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayern Munich and England’s national team. All three stadiums will also host 2020 European Championship games.
UEFA’s executive panel also awarded the 2021 Europa League final to Spain, at Sevilla’s Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium. Georgia was the other bidder, proposing the national arena in Tbilisi.
The 2021 Super Cup – played between the winners of that year’s Champions League and Europa League – will be played at Northern Ireland’s national stadium in Belfast.
In other decisions, video review will be used in the Europa League when the round of 32 starts in February. The video assistant referee (VAR) system began in the Champions League knockout rounds last season ahead of the second-tier competition.
A new third-tier club competition that’s set to kick off in 2021 will be called the UEFA Europa Conference League. Its working title was Europa League 2. From 2021-24 the group stage will have 32 teams, and a 64-team lineup has been suggested from 2024.
The Nations League is getting a revamp with more teams at the top level after the inaugural group stage played one year ago.
In a decision which saves 2014 World Cup winner Germany and 2018 runner-up Croatia from relegation to the second-tier League B, the four tiers will be redrawn in March to put four teams into each League A group instead of three.
The move was requested by high-ranking member federations who want even more competitive games against each other and to avoid playing friendly games.
With match-fixing cases still proving difficult to prosecute, UEFA also ordered a feasibility study into creating a European agency to help start investigations and make them more efficient.
“The most important thing is cooperation with governments,” Ceferin said, adding that UEFA could not collect evidence such as tapping phones. “The main problem is our jurisdiction ends at football.”
Earlier Tuesday, Ceferin teamed up with Portugal great Luis Figo to play a soccer game with children in his home city. The game launched an 11-million euro ($12.1 million) project to promote soccer in schools across Europe. The aim is to ensure soccer is “an integral part of children’s physical education” and to train more coaches.
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