The unanimous re-election of Michel Platini for a second four-year term as UEFA President; financial fair play; the fight against corruption and match-fixing; and continuing the countdown to UEFA EURO 2012 – just some of the events and activities that have marked another fascinating year for European football's governing body.
Add to this, fruitful dialogue with the European political authorities, committed campaigning on behalf of causes such as the fight against racism, humanitarian actions which reflect football's social power, and crucial support for Europe's national football associations, and it becomes clear that UEFA has carried out its role and mission with care and professionalism over the last 12 months.
The re-election of Michel Platini by acclamation as President at the XXXV Ordinary UEFA Congress in Paris in March was a reflection of the national associations' confidence in the Frenchman, who came to the UEFA helm in 2007. In his Congress address, Mr Platini noted the achievements of his first four years in office and outlined a number of key priorities for his second term.
The stability of European club football is a crucial pillar of UEFA's policies, as reflected in the launch and development of financial fair play measures, which are designed to safeguard against clubs going out of business as a result of dangerous financial management. "There is an enormous amount of money in football, but there is in particular an ethical problem as regards the way this money is sometimes managed and used," said Mr Platini. "Financial fair play is this essential project which will enable us to moralise certain practices in our sport."
Match-fixing, corruption and illegal betting continue to endanger football's very soul, and have prompted UEFA to step up its work against these negative phenomena. The European body considers the fight against such practices as a No1 priority, and has been further establishing a series of measures, such as a betting fraud detection system (BFDS) which monitors some 29,000 first and second-division matches, as well as UEFA's own games. In addition,a network of Integrity Officers is being created within UEFA's 53 member associations to work together not only with UEFA, but with state authorities – considered indispensable to help catch the criminals and individuals engaged in fixing matches and betting fraud.
Dialogue with the European authorities has been pursued with vigour in 2011. Michel Platini has held regular talks with senior European Union (EU) leaders and given keynote speeches to, among others, the European Parliament and Council of Europe, highlighting UEFA's activities and concerns. The European commissioner for sport, Andrea Vassiliou, attended a UEFA Executive Committee meeting in January. The dialogue has been comprehensive, and UEFA has received heartening support and encouragement for, among other things, its financial fair play measures and work to combat match-fixing. In December, Mr Platini held positive talks with Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission and commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, and Joaquín Almunia, vice-president of the commission and commissioner for competition. The talks proved another very positive step in the relations between UEFA and the European Commission.
A landmark occasion arrived in October – ten years of the anti-racism partnership between UEFA and the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network. UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League matches that month provided an ideal platform on which to transmit the firm message that racism, intolerance and discrimination have no place in football.
Healthy bases help nurture a healthy elite – so tending the grassroots remains at the forefront of UEFA's mission. A successful second UEFA Grassroots Day in May emphasised the fact that football is open to all, and the UEFA Grassroots Charter continues to reward national associations for their own grassroots work and development.
The relationship between UEFA and its national associations, which has flourished for more than five decades, is as solid as ever. UEFA's HatTrick assistance programme on behalf of the 53 member associations has again been key in helping the FAs upgrade their sporting and administrative infrastructures. The associations are also sharing invaluable expertise within the Knowledge & Information Sharing Scenario (KISS), as well as through the UEFA Study Group Scheme whereby technical information is exchanged across Europe. Innovative education schemes set up by UEFA are encouraging football administrators to gain know-how which will ultimately benefit the associations themselves.
Women's football has been given fresh impetus with the launch of the UEFA women's football development programme (WFDP). UEFA and the associations and clubs are working hand-in-hand to nurture the female game from the top to the grassroots – and give every girl or woman the chance to get involved. This new impetus was underlined with the chairwoman of the UEFA Women's Football Committee, Karen Espelund, becoming a UEFA Executive Committee member by invitation. The Executive Committee decided in December that from 2017 the Women's EURO will have a 16-team field – affording more associations and players the opportunity to savour the tournament and tilt for glory.
The challenge of preparing for UEFA EURO 2012 is being met head on. As next summer approaches, co-hosts Poland and Ukraine are into the final furlong of their preparations for what everyone anticipates will be a genuine football and cultural festival. "I have no worries that this EURO will be a wonderful one, not only for football, but also in terms of the atmosphere and the welcome given by the people in Poland and Ukraine," said Mr Platini.
Football remains paramount to UEFA's vision. "Everything is possible," the UEFA President said on his re-election in March. "The important thing is to keep faith and to keep our passion for this game intact, because it is only a game – while acting at the same time out of a concern for transparency, responsibility, openness, excellence and unity. It is in this way that we will achieve a football that is more moral, more just and more human.
"We have a notable duty to think of the next generation – the football that we want to leave to our children and grandchildren. Let us continue to have the courage to take the necessary decisions to protect football as we love it. We are the guarantors of this football and the guardians of an ideal – we should be proud – and I am certainly proud."
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