INTERVIEW Soccer-UEFA boss Ceferin relaxed about state-linked investments in clubs
By Simon Evans
LISBON, Aug 24 (Reuters) - UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has no issue with sovereign wealth funds and state-linked money coming into football as long as the game's financial regulations are observed.
The issue was highlighted earlier this year when the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, PIF, was part of an investment group that made a bid to buy Premier League club Newcastle United.
The offer was withdrawn last month after the Premier League started to carry out a lengthy examination of the proposed takeover as part of its "owners' and directors' test", which evaluates the suitability of ownership groups.
The consortium blamed the length of the evaluation, which usually takes a few weeks, for the decision to withdraw.
Newcastle have since held talks with the Bellagraph Nova Group (BNG) over a possible takeover bid, the Singapore-backed company said last week.
Also last month, Bahrain's sovereign wealth fund took a 20% stake in French second division club Paris FC.
Asked in a Reuters interview if he had any concerns about sovereign wealth or state-linked funds coming into the game, Ceferin said: “If it is within the regulation, I am not concerned.
"Since we distribute almost 90% of all the money back to the national associations and clubs, I would love to have even more revenues because it is good for the development of football."
Paris St Germain, owned by Qatari Sports Investments, were runners-up in the Champions League this season, losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich in Sunday's final.
Manchester City, backed by the Abu Dhabi United Group, reached the last eight of the competition after a season in which they prevailed against UEFA in court in a dispute over the European soccer governing body's Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations and whether they complied with them.
While neither club are directly owned by sovereign wealth funds, their close links to ruling families has led to some criticism from commentators.
Abu Dhabi United Group, the investment vehicle owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, are the majority owners of the City Football Group.
PSG's president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is chair of Qatari Sports Investments.
Ceferin said UEFA relied on investment in the game in order to redistribute funds across the continent.
"You have to know that without UEFA distributing the funds, out of 55 national associations close to 50 would be bankrupt and then children couldn’t play in those countries.
"So for us it is very important that we allow investments to come, but within the regulation (and) bearing in mind Financial Fair Play and competitive balance," he said.
The FFP regulations aim to stop clubs running up big losses buying players. They also ensure sponsorship deals are based on market value and are genuine commercial agreements and not ways for owners to pump cash into a club to get around the rules.
The UEFA president said discussions would continue about reforming the FFP system, introducing some form of a 'luxury tax' on big spending clubs and the broader issue of 'competitive balance' in the game.
"FFP is not enough any more, we have to do something to take care that, if you spend too much, by our regulations you have to give something back to the others," he said.
"Why is competitive balance so important? Because otherwise competition is not interesting anymore, it becomes boring and we don’t want that to happen."
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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