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French minister urges UEFA crackdown on multi-club ownership

Michael Regan - UEFA / UEFA / Getty

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PARIS (AP) — European soccer leaders were urged to protect soccer from the risk of owners taking control of multiple clubs, in a speech by France's sports minister on Thursday.

Amelie Oudea-Castera warned the UEFA annual congress of a scenario where "a small number of investors would have control over European football."

UEFA has longstanding rules monitoring multi-club owners in its competitions, and its in-house researchers warned last year of integrity risks to games on the field and in the player transfer market with about 200 clubs globally in the growing trend. Fans have been concerned their team can be used as a feeder for parent clubs.

"These are threats to our sporting principles and we need to be vigilant to such threats," Oudea-Castera said.

Fans of French club Strasbourg have protested at games in recent weeks against their club's American owners who have a much bigger investment in English club Chelsea.

One of France's most successful clubs, Lyon, is in a different American-backed multi-club network with England's Crystal Palace and Belgium's Molenbeek, where fans have protested about their owners. American owner 777 Partners has attracted intense scrutiny on its legal issues at home as it tries to add Premier League club Everton to its group.

One of the biggest multi-club groups is linked to the state of Abu Dhabi, anchored by Manchester City and including New York City and a significant stake in fast-improving Spanish club Girona.

Both Man City and Girona are second in the Premier League and La Liga, respectively, and a strict reading of longstanding UEFA rules would allow only one to enter the Champions League next season. That place should go to whichever finishes higher in their league.

Last year, a UEFA panel evaluating clubs which qualified for European competitions required AC Milan and Brighton to cut or end their ownership and management ties to, respectively, Toulouse and Union Saint-Gilloise.

Man City has also reportedly agreed on an end-of-season transfer deal for Girona star player Savio, a 19-year-old Brazilian forward on loan in Spain from another club in the Abu Dhabi-backed network, Troyes in France.

"You are the guardians of our principles of our sport," Oudea-Castera told her audience, including UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin and Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser al-Khelaifi, who is a member of UEFA's executive committee. PSG has an investment in Portuguese club Braga which also played in the Champions League this season.

"We need to recognise the risk to circumventing rules and sometimes the threat to fairness of competitions," the sports minister said.

Ceferin suggested last year UEFA needed to review its 25-year-old rules on multi-club ownership groups in its competitions.

"It has to be quick because, you know, everything has to happen quickly in football," Ceferin said last March.


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