The president of the English Football Association (FA), HRH the Duke of Cambridge, opened the XXXVII Ordinary UEFA Congress on Friday and spoke of the honour of welcoming European football to London.
"It is my great pleasure as president of the English Football Association to welcome you formally to London for this, the 37th Ordinary UEFA Congress," he said at the Grosvenor Hotel. "It is a great honour for us, the English FA, to host not just this prestigious Congress but of course the real excitement: tomorrow's [UEFA] Champions League final."
Both the Congress and the UEFA Champions League final, on Saturday at Wembley Stadium between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern München, return to London to mark the FA's 150th anniversary celebrations. Prince William was delighted to see English football playing such a prominent role on the European stage.
This week, London and English football feel very much at the heart of European football," he said. "We are so very proud of this. What unites us all as different nations is our love of a game that crosses boundaries. Wherever each of us has come from to be here today, we are all first and foremost fans, and it is in this spirit from one football fan to another that I welcome you to London."
He added: "To host these events during our 150th anniversary year is truly special. The rules of association football were drafted 150 years ago in a London pub very close to where we meet today. Those Football Association rules have spawned the game loved by the world, and it is wonderful that so many nations can be here together to celebrate its progress."
FA chairman David Bernstein picked up on that theme, recalling the group of men that first gathered to create the rules. "They met in the spirit of sport with a passionate commitment and determination to improve the game for all those that followed," he said. "I believe it is in the same spirit, with the same commitment and determination that we meet here today."
On Friday it was UEFA's member associations coming together to safeguard and work to improve the game. "Working together collectively, we can ensure that football addresses its many challenges without upsetting its fundamental principles of solidarity and universality that have been integral to the culture of football in its first 150 years," Mr Bernstein said. "UEFA understands this need for solidarity and the 53 nations working together, supporting and developing each other. Sharing knowledge and experience at every level is vital."
Mr Bernstein also praised UEFA's decision to pass a resolution at Congress to step up its drive to eradicate racism from football. "UEFA's leadership in this debate is important and I welcome the resolution," he said. "I think it is vital that we show a collective determination and leadership to keep up the fight."
UEFA and the FA's work at grassroots level was also of key importance to Mr Bernstein, who stressed that: "While we are all here in anticipation of the pinnacle of club football, seeing the best of the best in action, it is fitting that UEFA continues to grow the grassroots. We at the FA share this commitment."
Of course, the focus this weekend – for the seventh time in the European Cup's history – is Wembley. "It is with great pride that we are able to host this weekend," Mr Bernstein said. "Once again the world's biggest football match will be played in what I believe is the finest and most iconic stadium. Wembley for over 90 years has been central to the great story of European and English football. It is a venue that evokes memories and inspires those who are fortunate enough to grace its pitch, and I'm sure tomorrow's match will be another great chapter."
FIFA President Joseph S Blatter, meanwhile, expressed his pleasure to be back "in the motherland of football". He added: "It is an important time and an important year because it is the year of the celebration of the foundation of the FA." Returning to London, Mr Blatter said, recalled the "extraordinary success" of the 2012 Olympic Games in the city, highlighting in particular the record 80,203 crowd that watched the women's Olympic final at Wembley. Mr Blatter also praised the stand UEFA is taking against racism at Congress, and vowed to follow this up on a global level. "I congratulate you that you are going to take a resolution. It will be an important step."
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