UEFA seeks Euro 2032 bids, eyes dropping Belarus as U19 host

GENEVA (AP) — UEFA opened bidding Thursday for the 2032 European Championship, aiming to make a selection at the same time it picks the Euro 2028 host.

While UEFA looks to add hosts for its signature national-team tournament, it will consider pulling a women’s youth tournament from Belarus amid ongoing turmoil under the authoritarian leadership of Alexander Lukashenko.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin acknowledged “we would not play” in Belarus if the 2025 edition of the Under-19 Euros was due next year.

UEFA is in a better spot with fast-tracking the Euro 2032 bid contest to run alongside the 2028 one. Bidders must choose “one or the other” option to target by a March deadline, Ceferin said at an online news conference after an executive committee meeting.

The Euro 2028 bid timeline was announced two months ago with a host set to be chosen in September 2023.

Italy, Russia and Turkey were widely expected to enter the Euro 2028 contest to host the tournament alone.

Adding the 2032 tournament could tempt in a country or joint bid which currently wants to be Europe’s preferred candidate in FIFA’s contest to choose a 2030 World Cup host.

A Spain-Portugal bid and a combined British and Irish candidacy have long been seen as UEFA’s best options. Ceferin has repeatedly said Europe will propose only one to FIFA to avoid splitting its support.

EURO 2032

Organizing Euro 2032 is in play unexpectedly early even when the size of future editions of the tournament is unclear.

UEFA said in October the current 24-team format, which will stay in place for Euro 2024 in Germany, was only provisional for future bids and could change.

The bid timetable could also change, Ceferin said Thursday, according to how many of UEFA’s 55 member federations show interest in March.

UEFA has sped up its host selection process as FIFA pushes to double the number of men’s World Cups to every two years instead of four — a proposal that would squeeze continental tournaments like the Euros in the congested global schedule of national-team games.

WORLD CUP DEBATE

European and South American soccer leaders have strongly opposed FIFA’s biennial World Cup plan and warned of a boycott by their teams.

The 55-strong UEFA group and 10 South American nations will be among the 211 FIFA member federations invited to the world soccer body’s debate Monday on its ideas for competitions and schedules.

FIFA had once hoped the online meeting it will host from Doha, Qatar, could lead to a vote on approving biennial World Cups for men and women.

The goal is now less clear and Ceferin was skeptical Thursday how much will be achieved next week.

“We don’t have a particular strategy,” the UEFA president said when asked what compromises could be offered. “The only thing we know is that it’s called ‘Future of Football’ — which can mean a lot and can mean nothing.”

BELARUS ISSUE

Ceferin acknowledged UEFA’s concerns about going to Belarus, which has been roiled by the disputed re-election of Lukashenko 16 months ago.

“We know the situation right now is not good in Belarus,” Ceferin said, suggesting UEFA would not go if the women’s youth tournament was next year but has time to assess possible changes in the former Soviet republic.

“We would not play if we would be in a rush. When the time comes we will take the decision,” he said.

Belarus was due to host the women’s event this year before it was canceled like many other youth soccer tournament because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UEFA decided in April to push back Belarus’ turn to 2025, which was criticized by activists who have warned sports bodies about athletes being targeted by Lukashenko’s regime.

The same activists had urged the International Olympic Committee to take stronger action against Belarus officials before the Tokyo Olympics this year, where the team’s treatment of sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya became a global humanitarian issue.

RELIEF FUND FOR CLUBS

UEFA confirmed it is working with American bank Citi to set up a relief fund worth billions of dollars for European clubs that have lost income in the pandemic.

The fund should let clubs use their future UEFA prize money from the Champions League and other European club competitions as security for loans.

“Clubs will initially be offered the opportunity to restructure existing transfer payables to longer payment periods,” UEFA said, adding the fund could start operating later this season.

VACCINE PROGRAM

A UEFA promotional video featuring doctors will encourage players to get vaccinated.

“We have to be smart. People are not stupid, people understand when you explain in a nice way,” said Ceferin, who has been inoculated.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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