MOSCOW, January 18./ Oleg Koshelev/. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin will pay his first official visit to Russia in his capacity of the European governing body of football. Ceferin arrives on January 19 for the official presentation of St. Petersburg as of the organizing city of the 2020 UEFA Euro Cup. In an exclusive interview with TASS ahead of the visit, Ceferin shares his opinion about Russia’s place in the European football as well as on the positive course of construction works at the St. Petersburg Stadium.
- This is your first public visit to Russia. How important is Russia to the European footballing family?
Russia is a very important member of UEFA. It is the biggest European nation in terms of both country size and population, while Russia’s clubs and its national team have qualified on a regular basis for our competitions. Your country has of course hosted a number of significant UEFA events, such as the 2008 Champions League Final and the fact that St. Petersburg will be a host city for the UEFA EURO 2020 proves how important it is for the European Football Family. Furthermore, we should not forget that USSR won the inaugural European Championship in 1960.
- Do you believe that Russia lacks influence within the political side of European football? For example, Russia does not have a seat on the UEFA Executive Committee.
Russia may not have its own seat on the Executive Committee, but the Russian Football Union is still represented through Vitaly Mutko, who is able to attend meetings since he is a member of the FIFA Council.
- Are you keeping an eye on the construction process regarding the St. Petersburg Stadium, which will also host matches at UEFA EURO 2020?
I am sure that when it is ready, it will be one of the top arenas in Europe. At UEFA, we know all about the atmosphere at the Stadion Petrovski and I am sure that the new stadium will be even more impressive for fans and players alike.
- In your ideal format for a European Championship, how many teams should play in the final tournament?
UEFA EURO 2016 was without doubt a positive experience with 24 teams competing for the first time. We believe that the current number of countries gives the optimum balance between ensuring a competitive tournament, while also giving a greater number of nations a chance to play in our showpiece national team event.
- What sort of relationship do you have with the EPFL? Do you see the organization as a possible threat to UEFA? Or on the contrary, do you think you can work with them?
I met recently with the chairman of the EPFL Lars-Christer Olsson and we had an open and fruitful discussion. We spoke about how increased cooperation between our organisations in the future can be beneficial for football. The involvement of football’s main stakeholders in the consultation and decision making process is crucial for the sustainable development of the sport in Europe.
- A month ago when you were asked about the possibility of expanding the World Cup following the ExCo in Nyon, it seemed to me that relations between UEFA and FIFA were not the warmest. How would you describe your relationship with FIFA and Gianni Infantino?
A month ago in Nyon, we were unaware of FIFA’s plans regarding possible changes to the format of the FIFA World Cup so it was difficult for us to comment. My relationship with Gianni is very good and we are looking forward to continuing a prolonged period of excellent cooperation between UEFA and FIFA.
- Do you support the decision made by the FIFA Council regarding the 2026 World Cup?
During the FIFA Council meeting in Zurich, it was clear that all other confederations were overwhelmingly in favour of expanding the FIFA World Cup to 48 teams starting in 2026. As a result, UEFA decided to join in supporting the new format of the competition. We are satisfied that the length of the tournament will not increase, which is crucial for the clubs as it will not increase the burden on the players.
- Do you have any doubts regarding Vitaly Mutko's candidacy for the FIFA Council, given that his name has been mentioned in connection with numerous doping scandals that have tarnished Russia's sporting reputation?
This will ultimately be a FIFA decision since it is the FIFA review committee who performs eligibility checks. However, I can say that the cooperation between UEFA, myself and the RFU led by Vitaly is very good.
- What was UEFA's reaction to the McLaren report, which was commissioned by WADA. Do you think that Russian football has a doping problem?
UEFA is doing its utmost in the fight against doping. Rigorous testing takes place both in and out of competition during both international matches and UEFA club competitions. You may know that in December we made the decision to put in place a new programme-protocol regarding the storage of samples. UEFA will store all samples collected for a period of 10 years to allow them to be re-tested. This was one of my first decisions as UEFA president and it shoes our commitment to fighting all forms of doping in football.
- What is UEFA's opinion regarding calls from some circles to take away the 2018 FIFA World Cup from Russia?
I don't see any rational or legal reason to take the FIFA 2018 World Cup away from Russia. I am sure that the Russian Football Union and Local Organizing Committee will do a great job and that we will have a very successful World Cup in 2018. I am not worried at all.