UEFA President Michel Platini has welcomed the "relationship of trust" that exists between UEFA and the European Union – reflected in long-standing positive dialogue and recent key agreements between the parties.
In a keynote speech at a meeting of EU sports ministers in Rome on Tuesday, Mr Platini took the opportunity to greet the signature last week of a cooperation agreement between UEFA and the European Commission in Brussels.
The UEFA President pledged continued collaboration with the EU on matters of mutual interest, and asked for reciprocal support to ensure that sport would be based on values of "honesty, sustainability and solidarity" in the future.
In his address, Mr Platini urged European Union sports ministers in particular to condemn third-party ownership of football players, and to fully support UEFA's financial fair play measures designed to safeguard the future stability of European club football.
"I want to set out some ideas that, I believe, will maintain high moral standards in football as well as the sport's long-term future," Mr Platini said in opening his speech. "I am counting on your active support on these fundamental issues, because we can achieve more together than alone, and because progress for one means progress for everyone."
"On several occasions in recent years, I have expressed my concern about the growing number of immoral practices that are happening on the fringes of the football pyramid," he added. "You know how determined I am to stamp them out. I do not believe they can be cast out by saying nothing, ignoring them and pretending they do not exist, but that, quite the reverse, they demand concrete action, energy and collective effort."
Mr Platini called for strong denunciation of third-party ownership of players. "With insidious methods and ruthless objectives, this phenomenon shows a blatant disregard for human dignity, the integrity of our competitions, and even the financing of grassroots sport," he said. "This terrible practice, previously seen only in South America, is now sweeping through the whole of Europe."
The UEFA President said that the practice contravened human dignity principles laid down in the EU's charter of fundamental rights. "Third-party ownership of players refers to the situation where a player is – to put it bluntly – carved up into economic rights, which are then shared between one or more investment funds," he explained. "The players concerned lose their contractual freedom, as the owners of their economic rights abuse the powers entrusted to them and secure lucrative financial deals at the players' expense. They are therefore deprived of their free will.
"And what do you think would happen if the same fund owned the economic rights of a number of players in different teams in the same competition? The answer is simple: the nightmare of match-fixing could rear its ugly head. The essential values of integrity and sincerity that should be embodied in sport are therefore being scorned, even violated."
Mr Platini described third-party ownership as a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that is threating the ethics of sport at continental level. "There is no place for third-party ownership of players in European sport," he said. "A tailor-made legal framework is therefore required. If we fail to deal with this properly, it will not just be a defeat for UEFA, nor even just for the sports movement, but for all Europe. There is therefore an urgent need to act and respond."
Turning to financial fair play, Mr Platini said that measures taken aimed to guarantee football's long-term economic future. "Previously unthinkable reforms have been adopted and implemented and they have proved successful," he reflected. "The basis for [financial fair play] comes down to two sayings: 'you should live within your means' and 'there's a line that must not be crossed'."
The UEFA President explained that UEFA had been forced to act because many clubs were facing financial ruin. "We have started to put football on the right track," he stressed. "Each of us must measure how far we have come. Aggregate losses among European clubs, which had reached €1.7bn in 2011, fell to €800m in 2013, a drop of more than 50% in less than two years. Thanks to financial fair play, we are therefore heading in the right direction."
Nevertheless, Mr Platini said that legal uncertainties were still hindering the way forward. He asked for support in opposing those who wished to bring down financial fair play, and for sport's specificity to be guaranteed and freed from such uncertainties.
Mr Platini concluded by welcoming the new UEFA/EU agreement signed in Brussels last week, describing the cooperation arrangement as a "historic step forward for European sports policy". "In this current day and age, sport tends to receive a great deal of flattery," he concluded. "Let us not content ourselves with flattering sport. Let us love it, and let us serve it."
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