UEFA’s president Aleksander Čeferin has apologised to supporters over the failures of organisation seen at 2022’s Champions League final and says the governing body has “learned from past mistakes” – while issuing a call to arms to supporters to help tackle racism and abuse of match officials.
Speaking at the European Football Fans Congress (EFFC) in Manchester on Thursday night, Čeferin said UEFA was sorry for the issues supporters faced in Paris in May 2022 and acknowledged “not everything was perfect” at Istanbul earlier this month.
Manchester City fans reported a lengthy list of serious organisational issues before and after the Champions League final held at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in the outskirts of the Turkish capital, including problems with transport, logistics, guidance and a significant lack of toilet facilities and refreshments at the ground.
“Given what some of you experienced recently, I would understand if I got a cold reception tonight,” Čeferin told supporter representatives gathered at the National Football Museum.
“We’re well aware that in Istanbul not everything was perfect and I’m certainly not playing down the problems encountered by some.
“But let us continue working together to improve what we can improve. I’m thinking in particular of transport links, to better understand the hosting of disabled supporters and access to water and toilets for everyone.”
He also said the Europa League and Europa Conference League finals, which were felt to have gone well, showed UEFA has “learned from past mistakes”.
Istanbul was the second successive European Cup final that had problems with its organisation – in May 2022 thousands of Liverpool fans were caught up in dangerous overcrowding before their final against Real Madrid at the Stade De France.
Those events in Paris led to a six-month long investigation from an independent panel, including supporter representatives, who reported serious safety failures that could have led to fatalities.
UEFA, the panel reported, bore “primary responsibility” for the chaos before the game and the governing body has since pledged to review its organisational guidelines for major finals and refund Liverpool fans.
“I can assure you that next year’s Champions League final at Wembley and Euro 2024 in Germany will be a unique experience for fans,” Čeferin told the EFFC.
“I also came here to say sorry. We would love to erase events that happened last year. Everyone welcomed the decision to move from St Petersburg to Paris and we know what happened. Good intentions are not enough – sorry.
“I think we should roll up our sleeves and ensure that attending a football match remains a unique and unforgettable experience for everyone.”
Abuse: Call to arms
The Europa League final was also marred by abuse of match officials – with English referee Anthony Taylor harassed by fans at Budapest airport following the Roma vs Seville game – and the UEFA president urged supporters to help tackle the problem.
“Let’s rid ourselves of those who pour out their hate towards football officials,” he said. “The referees, UEFA staff, federations and leagues staff are not your enemies. “We are united by the same passion.”
Additionally, Čeferin wanted to highlight recent high profile incidents of racism directed at some of Europe’s elite players – calling on supporters to help eradicate both forms of abuse.
“We need you to help us rid the game of people who hide in the crowd in order to spew out messages of hate just because of a player’s skin colour or sexual orientation,” he told supporters.
“We must shun, call out and rid ourselves of these idiots who discredit both football and you, the fans.
“Let’s work together to put our house in order and ban from our stadiums anyone who comes not for a love of football, like you, but out of hatred for others.”