Every four years, the eyes and ears of the world focus on the continent's best national teams and footballers as they convene for the UEFA European Championship. The occasion rolls around again in 2012.
From 8 June to 1 July, the spotlight will be on UEFA EURO 2012, as 16 teams vie for the coveted title in an event that will bring memorable matches, unforgettable goals and the emergence of a new star or two. It will be an emotional rollercoaster for the thousands of fans in the stadiums, as well as millions enjoying the action on TV screens and other media outlets throughout the world.
Poland and Ukraine are working flat out to stage a memorable EURO. The UEFA Executive Committee's decision in 2007 to take the tournament to eastern Europe is being vindicated as the co-hosts carefully put the final touches to their preparations. The hard work will not only be worthwhile for the duration of the tournament – both countries are putting infrastructures in place for the future.
"The advantage for these two countries," said UEFA President Michel Platini in December, "is that they are making a leap ahead in quality of 30 years into the future, because they are changing communications, roads, motorways, airport terminals. They have invested greatly. The EURO will last only three weeks, but all of this will remain for decades afterwards. It's a wonderful thing for the two countries. And if the players play well, it will also be wonderful for football."
A mouth-watering draw in Kyiv in December suggests all the ingredients are in place for a tasty tournament. Yet as soon as the final cheers have died down after the final in Kyiv on 1 July, the dial will already be turned firmly towards UEFA EURO 2016 in France.
Away from the glitter and glamour of UEFA EURO 2012, UEFA will be pursuing its vision and objectives with customary care for the well-being of the European game. Financial fair play measures – designed to safeguard the stability of European club football – are being implemented. They include an obligation for sides, over a period of time, to balance their books or break even. Under the concept, clubs cannot repeatedly spend more than their generated revenues.
Football's very heartbeat is threatened by the menaces of match-fixing, corruption and illegal betting practices. "The fight against match-fixing and corruption is certainly the top priority for UEFA, the UEFA President and the UEFA Executive Committee in the years to come," said UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino. "It is our job to protect football; it is our responsibility to do what we can against corruption, to fight this cancer that we have to eradicate from football.
"If fans and children have the impression that results are known before the match starts, then this clearly affects the soul of football or any other sport," he added. "To efficiently fight match-fixing, we are committed to doing everything we can – but we also need the help of the law enforcement agencies and authorities. We need to work hand in hand, to act very strongly and in a united way."
UEFA will be continuing to bolster its activities through, in particular, the constant monitoring of thousands of matches provided by its betting fraud detection system. Across Europe, Integrity Officers in the UEFA member associations will liaise with state authorities and UEFA in trying to root out and punish the organised gangs and individuals endangering the sport's good health.
There are also plenty of positive things for European football's governing body to look forward to in 2012. Youth tournaments will unearth stars of tomorrow, and the drive to develop women's football is being intensified. It will be fascinating to watch national associations and their clubs, with UEFA's encouragement, continue to come up with projects and ideas that will hopefully culminate in many more women and girls being attracted to the game as players, referees, coaches and spectators.
The grassroots remain a fundamental component of UEFA's vision, in accordance with the philosophy that healthy roots mean healthy branches further up the football tree. The third UEFA Grassroots Day on 16 May will celebrate grassroots football in a variety of ways across the 53 national associations.
As has been the case since its birth in 1954, the national associations remain the pillar on which UEFA's work is based. They will be helped to grow and develop via the HatTrick assistance programme, will exchange know-how together for the common European football good through the KISS programme and Study Group Scheme. They will gather in Istanbul in March for the XXXVI Ordinary UEFA Congress to help UEFA set European football's course ahead.
UEFA's social and humanitarian heart will beat strongly in 2012. The Respect flag will fly high in various projects at UEFA EURO 2012, tackling some of Europe's key social issues and looking to raise awareness and affect positively the lives of people in Poland and Ukraine. Violence and racism will receive zero tolerance. A deserving organisation or cause will receive UEFA's €1m Charity Cheque. UEFA's social responsibility work emphasises, among other things, football's power as a unifying force, a healer in areas of conflict, and a source of joy for children.
At the onset of another fascinating year, UEFA remains firmly established as one of European football's key players. In accordance with its values, it will pass through 2012 with the motto 'football first' at the heart of its work on behalf of the game.
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