PARIS (AP) – Seven Spanish soccer teams have protested against a plan to transform the Champions League into a largely closed competition, openly opposing the European Club Association ahead of emergency meetings in Malta.
Atletico Madrid, second to Barcelona in the Spanish league, is the leading club to complain to the ECA leadership about its vision for launching a ''frontal attack'' on the stability of the European game in a letter obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Barcelona and Real Madrid, whose officials sit on the ECA executive board, are not among the signatories.
But Spain's other seven members of the ECA have broken rank to express concern to the organization about a lack of consultation and openness about plans they say represent ''the biggest threat in the history of European football in recent years.''
The ECA, which is led by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, has pushed a vision presented by UEFA that wants 24 out of 32 teams in the group stage returning the following season regardless of where they finish in their domestic leagues. That would involve promotion and relegation with the Europa League, which would have similar locked-in places and movement with a new third competition.
''The new European Club Competitions model proposed by UEFA and the Executive Board of the ECA represents a potential great threat, not only to national leagues and the great majority of clubs, but for all European football, representing a frontal attack to the competitive balance and to the stability of domestic competitions,'' Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Malaga, Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Valencia and Villarreal wrote to the ECA leadership.
''We sincerely believe that we are facing the biggest threat in the history of European football in recent years for clubs and national leagues.''
The status of competitions like the Spanish league could be diminished without the four Champions League spots to play for each season.
''We firmly believe that European competitions should be a reward for excellence,'' the Spanish clubs wrote, ''in which the best teams participate in a competition open to all, based on the principles of sporting merit, solidarity among clubs, fair distribution, etc.''
Currently, only the Europa League winner is promoted to the Champions League and the Champions League victor is ensured of a return the following season.
''Access should always be achieved, with only the exceptions that apply in the current format, through domestic competitions,'' the clubs wrote.
The seven teams threatened to end their membership of the ECA, which holds a special assembly in Malta on Thursday and Friday to discuss the competition format changes.
''We are very concerned about the way these drastic changes are being proposed,'' the clubs wrote. ''The lack of transparency, with negotiations led by a few that have become representatives of European clubs, leads to many of us no longer feeling represented by the Executive Board of the ECA.
''Proof of this is that the new model has not been shown to us at any time.''
On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron joined the resistance against changes to the Champions League format. The intervention in a speech at a FIFA event in Paris angered UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, who told the AP it was a ''clear interference of politics in sports.''
French soccer federation president Noel Le Graet tried to smooth relations on Wednesday in an address to the FIFA Congress.
Le Graet said he was ''delighted to work alongside'' Ceferin, and that while France's voice should be heard in the debate ''there shouldn't be interference from anybody else.''