Football: League to take on Uefa

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The Independent Online
The Football League is to lodge an official complaint against Uefa, European football's governing body, with the European Commission in Brussels over the decision to deny a place in the Uefa Cup to the winners of theCoca- Cola Cup.

Demonstrating that nothing irritates a Briton quite like European interference, the Football League chairman, David Sheepshanks, said yesterday: "Uefa's actions amount to an abuse of a dominant position."

The decision to end the Coca-Cola Cup's status as a qualifying route was taken in 1994, following a French application for a Uefa place as a reward for their new league cup competition. Uefa stated that this was possible only if the highest domestic division contained no more than 18 clubs.

"To prejudice the Football League's major knock-out competition because of the size of the Premier League is patently wrong," Sheepshanks said. "It cannot be right that we are held responsible and penalised for something over which we exercise no control."

There are fears that the underlying motive for Uefa's ruling is its own agenda for increased European competition. Sheepshanks, who is the chairman of Ipswich Town, alluded to this when he said: "They continue to expand their own sphere of operations whilst expecting domestic competitions to contract."

Mike Lee, a Premier League spokesman, said: "We believe that decisions on the size of domestic leagues should be taken at a national level." He added that the Premier League had already reduced its numbers from 22 to 20, and that there were no plans for any further reduction.

However, it is significant that the Premier League has organised a meeting for representatives from Europe's major leagues in London on 10 September. The Football League's recourse to European justice may well be a single chapter in a larger story - the threat Uefa's club competitions pose to the respective domestic leagues.

Where this leaves this year's Coca-Cola Cup is anybody's guess. Martin O'Neill, the manager of the holders Leicester City, perhaps the last such recipients of a Uefa Cup place, was open in his support for the League's challenge to Uefa, saying: "The competition would be devalued if the place was lost."