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UEFA’s New President, Aleksander Ceferin, Craves Plenty of Change in His Staid Sport

More than being unafraid of change, though, he said he was compelled toward it. It is his “responsibility,” he said. No more boiler-room politics, no more clandestine deals, no more murky patronage. He is an unknown quantity, and that brings with it a blank slate.

Some had dismissed him as a puppet of the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, but Ceferin points out that he has “very different views on a lot of things.” Before last year’s vote, the Norwegian magazine Josimar suggested Ceferin was a “Russian candidate,” and yet his first act was to award the 2018 Champions League final to Kiev, Ukraine. “A strange thing for a Russian candidate to do,” he said, smiling.

What UEFA can expect might be best illustrated by possibly the smallest, least noticeable change Ceferin has made in the post, one that will be apparent to only a few dozen people ever, at most.

On April 5, UEFA will hold its 41st annual congress at the Messukeskus Expo and Convention Center in Helsinki. It will, as always, be a five-star few days, 72 hours of glad-handing and backslapping. Some things never change. There will, though, be small — but significant — differences.

“Before, at UEFA events — it was the case during Euro 2016 — the normal federation presidents used to be in one hotel, the ExCo members in a more luxurious one,” Ceferin said, referring to the executive committee. “They had their own exclusive transport; we had a bus. We came to dinner, and there was an area reserved for the ExCo. We had to go.

“People were fed up. They were angry, and they wanted change. I said, first of all, in Helsinki, we will all be in the same hotel. At dinner, it will be free seating. This was a shock for some.”

There is an eerie familiarity to this sentiment, even in this most unlikely of settings: an aloof, “untouchable” elite, its longevity…

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