The Liverpool MP Ian Byrne has urged the Football Association to call for Aleksander Ceferin to “consider his position” as Uefa president due to mounting concerns about alleged cronyism and safety deficiencies following the near-disaster at the 2022 Champions League final.
Byrne, who was at the Stade de France in Paris to support Liverpool against Real Madrid, also called on the FA to seek the removal of Zeljko Pavlica, Uefa’s head of safety and security. Thousands of supporters at the match suffered a failed safety management operation, hours of static queues, dangerous policing and attacks by local thugs. A review panel appointed by Uefa to inquire into the disaster made 21 recommendations for future improvement.
In a letter to the FA chief executive, Mark Bullingham, Byrne accused Uefa of having “seriously endangered” supporters due to the “cronyism” of Pavlica’s appointment: “Cronyism was responsible for the appointment of Zeljko into such a vital position at Uefa with responsibility for the safety of supporters – a position he was patently unfit to fill. Can you please outline what steps the FA are taking to ensure that this culture of cronyism is eradicated?”
Pavlica is the best friend of Ceferin, with their relationship dating back years in their native Slovenia. Pavlica was appointed to a full-time safety role at Uefa after Ceferin was elected president in 2016, then promoted to head of safety and security in 2021. Uefa has said that no formal recruitment process was required because Pavlica was the “natural successor” to the retiring Kenny Scott. Ceferin subsequently confirmed that he had been instrumental in Pavlica’s appointment to Uefa and that of other associates from Slovenia, saying in an interview: “If I brought competent people that I trust to Uefa, who are hard-working people there … I think I am quite good in this world of football.”
Pavlica’s level of experience and expertise for European football’s most senior stadium safety leadership role has been questioned by some safety professionals, given that his background in Slovenia was working in personal security. He began working in football in 2011 after Ceferin was elected president of the Slovenian FA.
On Monday the Guardian reported that Pavlica told Uefa’s review panel he had been in the VIP area of the Stade de France for almost the entire time while the crisis was developing outside the stadium from before 6pm. He said he had been unaware there was any crisis until 8.45pm, when Ceferin took the decision to delay the kick-off. Uefa has previously rejected accusations of cronyism, saying that Pavlica and Ceferin’s other associates from Slovenia recruited to the organisation were all “well-respected professionals”.
In his letter to Bullingham, Byrne wrote: “I believe it is vitally important to remember at all times that Uefa is a confederation of football associations, which means the FA is part of it and as such the FA must hold Uefa to account, especially in a situation where supporter safety has been so seriously endangered due to appalling governance and cronyism at Uefa. At present this does not seem to be happening but turning a blind eye is not an acceptable response.
“The parallels with Hillsborough are both uncanny and terrifying. I urge the FA not to let the LFC supporters down like they did previously in 1989. I also urge you in the strongest possible terms, as chief executive officer of the FA and in light of [the Guardian’s reporting], to call on Uefa to remove Zeljko Pavlica and to call on Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin to again consider his position in the interest of all football fans across Europe.”
In response to Byrne’s letter, a spokeswoman said the FA has called on Uefa to adopt in full the review panel’s recommendations for improved safety, and that Bullingham had sought assurances this would be done before last season’s final in Istanbul. “The safety of fans is of the utmost importance to us and planning is already well under way for the Champions League final in 2024 which will be hosted at Wembley,” she said. “The recommendations from the Paris report are central to our planning and will be implemented.”
Uefa did not respond to an invitation to comment on Byrne’s letter. Previously Uefa has said that it has implemented an action plan following the review panel’s recommendations for safety improvement, which it said had been well-received by supporter groups. Pavlica is understood shortly to be moving to a different role within Uefa, but the organisation has so far declined to confirm that.