UEFA’s Ceferin Says He Won’t Seek Another Term as President

European soccer leaders on Thursday fell squarely in line behind their powerful president, Aleksander Ceferin, by approving a change to term-limit rules that would have allowed him to retain his post through 2031, years beyond the organization’s strict 12-year term limit.

The vote, though, was quickly rendered meaningless: About an hour after winning the right to pursue a new four-year term as president of European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, Mr. Ceferin said that he would not seek one.

“I’ve decided I am not planning to run in 2027,” a stony-faced Mr. Ceferin said, reading from prepared notes in comments that he used to simultaneously explain his thinking and settle scores with the news media and other soccer officials.

Mr. Ceferin said that he had made the decision not to seek another term six months ago, after growing weary of issues such as leading the effort to suppress a breakaway super league and managing European soccer through the pandemic and wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

He said that he had not revealed his plans earlier because he wanted to first assess the loyalty of UEFA’s members. In recent months, several top officials in the governing body’s leadership had objected, publicly and privately, to his growing power and to any weakening of term limits.

The suggestions of a conflict first flared up at a meeting of UEFA’s executive board in December when Mr. Ceferin’s motivations for the rule change were first questioned. Even as that meeting grew feisty, though, he did not take the opportunity to make his intentions clear. Nor did he do so in January, when one of his top aides, Zvonimir Boban, a former star player from Croatia, resigned — in part, Mr. Boban said, to protest the president’s maneuvering.

That had raised the prospect that Thursday’s vote would offer a whiff of rebellion. Instead, it brought near-total capitulation: When it came time for the vote, only England’s soccer federation held up a red card of disapproval among a sea of green cards approving the changes.

Asked why he had not made his plans clear before the vote, Mr. Ceferin said that he had stayed silent for two reasons.

“First,” he said, “I wanted to see the real face of some people, and I saw it. I saw good and bad at once. And of course I did not want to influence the congress. I wanted them to decide not knowing what I’m telling you here today.”

Mr. Ceferin has served as UEFA’s president since winning election in 2016 after a corruption scandal that ousted his predecessor. Soon after taking office, he ushered in the term limits and other overhauls as part of a suite of changes meant to prevent similar scandals from happening again.

The statute change approved Thursday was a minor alteration of language but it would have had a powerful effect for Mr. Ceferin by exempting his abbreviated first term — about three years — from the term-limit calculation. That would have allowed him to run for another term in 2027, and eventually to serve as long as 15 years.

Mr. Ceferin’s efforts to change the rules had alarmed his critics, who noted that they went against his own statements, made shortly after being elected. In 2017, Mr. Ceferin had vowed to serve as an example of reform by sticking to the spirit of the new rules, even if it meant stepping aside before the 12 years allowed.

More recently, though, he had become less clear about his plans to surrender his position — and his control over UEFA, a billion-dollar organization that runs events, like the Champions League, that are some of the richest and most popular sporting events on the planet.

The job is undeniably an attractive one: It comes with a $3 million annual salary, luxury travel and the opportunity to rub shoulders with celebrities, political leaders and sports stars — all while Mr. Ceferin commutes from his home in Slovenia to UEFA’s headquarters in Switzerland on a weekly basis, per his longstanding arrangement with the governing body. At the same time, Mr. Ceferin has used staff appointments, hosting rights and millions of dollars in development payouts to tighten his grip on the presidency.

Given those facts, even some of his harshest critics — a small group within the 55 member federations that comprise UEFA — backed away from offering a public rebuke on Thursday. Norway’s soccer federation, for example, having failed to have the term-limits amendment unbundled from a suite of other changes, voted in favor. So did others, including several officials who only a night earlier had privately bemoaned the risks of concentrating power in the hands of one man.

One federation chief executive admitted his country’s private reservations would have to remain just that, saying there was no upside to publicly challenging Mr. Ceferin. When the time came to vote, his federation silently raised its green card.

Only England voted in opposition. It had little choice after the words of David Gill, UEFA’s English vice president, became public after a meeting held in December. In that meeting, Mr. Gill, former chief executive of Manchester United, clashed with Mr. Ceferin over the change, accusing the president of going against the spirit of overhauls he once championed.

On Thursday, Mr. Gill — UEFA’s longest-serving board member — was given the equivalent of an official cold shoulder, seated on the far reaches of the dais, in a spot usually reserved for more junior members.

“We were supportive of the statute changes proposed by UEFA, with the exception of one,” England’s federation said in a statement after the vote — a reference to the language on term limits. “We have recently implemented governance changes of our own and think it’s important that we are consistent in our approach.”

Mr. Ceferin also used the news conference on Thursday to take aim at Mr. Boban, once one of his closest aides. Mr. Boban quit as UEFA’s director of soccer in January, citing the proposed rule changes and offering a blistering critique of Mr. Ceferin in the letter that announced his exit.

On Thursday, Mr. Ceferin claimed that Mr. Boban had known at the time about his plan not to stand for re-election, and suggested that Mr. Boban’s resignation had been a “narcissistic” bid for attention. Mr. Boban did not immediately respond to his former boss’s assertion.

One relationship that Mr. Ceferin did choose to highlight was his improving one with Gianni Infantino, the president of soccer’s global governing body, FIFA. The recent rapprochement between the men, who recently went more than a year without speaking, comes after Mr. Infantino also pushed through a rule change that would allow him to stay in power beyond FIFA’s term limits.

“Today, my friends, more than ever before, the general good must prevail over individual interests,” Mr. Ceferin said. “This has always been my mantra, and I will never change.”