The XXXIV Ordinary UEFA Congress opened in Tel Aviv on Thursday with an address from Israel's president Shimon Peres who thanked UEFA for "meeting in Israel for the first time" and stressed football's importance in the world today, particularly as a vehicle for peace.
"All the stars of football I have met are instinctively messengers of peace," he said. "For me, your contribution to peace is very meaningful." Mr Peres welcomed the delegates of the 53 UEFA member associations to Israel and explained why he believes the sport is such a force for good.
"Football is such a meaningful engagement," he said. "We talk about stars, players who are extremely talented. But I don't believe talent is a gift – it is a process. To be a good player you must invest hours and hours of training. The message is, if you really want to achieve you have to work and work very hard."
He added: "Football brings people together, above politics, borders, colours and religion. It is a meeting of people who really care." Football, he said, "was the first real attempt to fight racism, the first place where the colour of the face or the religion or the region did not play a role ... It is the most educating phenomenon I know."
Education was a theme continued by Israel Football Association (IFA) president Avraham Luzon who said he was "proud, thrilled and filled with awe standing here before you as head of the Israel Football Association and welcoming you to our country".
"The IFA believes football is an educational tool. It is an instrument connecting all walks of society," he went on. "We visit and talk to trainers and children and youth teams and educate them towards tolerance. Football is a source of joy and happiness, but there are those that threaten it with violence and racism. I feel it is our duty to expel these racists."
FIFA president Joseph S Blatter concurred when he followed Mr Luzon on to the podium. "Education and the social values of football – what we are trying to teach through football, you politicians are doing the same. We encourage everyone to do so and consider football not only as kicking a ball, but far more than that."
Mr Blatter was also delighted that a clause on the specificity of sport had been included in the Treaty of Lisbon which was ratified by the European Union last year. "In Europe, an important decision was taken with the Treaty of Lisbon that finally accepted the specificity of sport," he said.
In other business, the Congress approved the annual statement of accounts and association accounts for 2008/09, the auditors' report for the 2008/09 financial year, UEFA's strategic financial outlook from 2009/10 to 2014/15, and UEFA's budget for the 2010/11 financial year.
Delegates also approved a series of amendments to the Statutes of UEFA. These include new provisions whereby clubs' participation in a domestic league championship should depend on sporting merit.
A club should qualify for a domestic league championship by remaining in a certain division, or by being promoted and relegated to another division at the end of the season. Promotion and relegation is a pillar of the European sports model.
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