UEFA President Michel Platini has emphasised the need to protect football and its values and has welcomed positive progress in the European game. He also stressed UEFA's duty to tackle those negative elements that endanger the sport's overall well-being.
In his address to the XXXVII Ordinary UEFA Congress in London, Mr Platini also praised Europe's national associations for their crucial contribution in nurturing the European game. "I think we can say that we are a confederation which is moving forwards at a good pace, and which is moving in the right direction," he said.
Mr Platini expressed his pleasure at UEFA's presence this week in London: "A city that lives and breathes football, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A country – England – whose heart beats for football … to which we owe this beautiful game that excites us so much.
"It was therefore only right that, in honour of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of The FA, the world's oldest football association, football's international bodies should come to pay tribute to you."
Mr Platini greeted the success of UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. "We were successful in tackling our primary challenge in 2012. Indeed, EURO 2012 was a success in every respect … Eastern Europe is capable of hosting events on that scale, as Ukraine and Poland showed so admirably."
The UEFA President said that European football was flourishing in many ways. "The quality of the football is exceptional – better than ever – and the results are following close behind," he stated. "Throughout Europe, the game is progressing. From Reykjavik to Valletta, football is improving day by day. The development programmes that [associations] are putting in place are bearing fruit. Your role is to allow as many children in your countries as possible to play football in the best possible conditions."
Mr Platini welcomed UEFA's strong relationship with the national associations. "Solidarity payments under the HatTrick programme have increased with every cycle … That has not stopped us from establishing new development programmes for the benefit of national associations.
"European football is enjoying unprecedented popularity. In a way, our competitions unite nations and transcend borders … We can consider ourselves fortunate as we belong to an organisation that is on the move and forward-looking, a bold organisation that initiates more and more projects that promise great things."
Turning to UEFA EURO 2020, which will be staged in 13 European cities, Mr Platini pledged that "this will be a 'EURO for Europe' … 53 national associations, 24 national teams qualifying for the final round, 13 countries, and one single language: football.
"For a number of countries, this project represents a unique opportunity to host EURO matches. It is also a fantastic opportunity for national associations to finally set about acquiring a true national stadium that is worthy of the name … Finally, it will also be an opportunity for people who cannot travel to the countries that generally host such events to be able to experience those intense moments of shared emotion at home. Fans won't have to go to the EURO; the EURO will come to them." Before then, UEFA EURO 2016 in France, Mr Platini said, also promised passion, friendship and fine football – "an event not to be missed".
Mr Platini turned to three negative elements menacing football's well-being. "The first is the issue of match-fixing and betting. We are protecting our sport from this scourge with all the means at our disposal, but, unfortunately, that is sometimes not enough … We are not dealing with petty criminals who are looking to make ends meet.
"Just one fixed match is one match too many, as it strikes at the soul of our sport, the very essence of the game."
Mr Platini turned to discrimination. "Football is characterised by swapping and sharing. It is the team sport par excellence. Football integrates; it does not exclude. Football is inclusive and welcoming; it does not isolate. That is its primary function.
"Unfortunately, football is all too often caught up by the ills of society. We must not bury our heads in the sand. Discrimination, be it racial or sexual, is still present in football today. And we owe it to ourselves to act. By working on prevention and education, of course, as that is an essential element of any ambitious strategy in this area, but also by imposing the necessary sanctions."
Thirdly, the UEFA President spoke of the worrying financial situation at certain clubs in Europe. "Financial fair play was established in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of European clubs," he said. "The philosophy of this project can be expressed in one sentence and is, above all, simple good sense: 'Do not spend more money than you make.' It is about the clubs managing their finances in a responsible manner, but it is also about making clubs pay the money they owe to tax authorities, other clubs and all of their employees, both players and coaches.
"UEFA had a duty to step in, and it will be up to the independent bodies to punish the few clubs that have not realised.
"Working for football, we have everything … we need to be happy, but aware also of our responsibilities," Mr Platini concluded. "But if we always remember that it is our duty to protect the game, the players and our values, those of the national associations, we will have right on our side.
"For we should not fool ourselves: protecting the game, the players and our values is essential; protecting the game, the players and our values is our mission; protecting the game, the players and our values should always be what guides our actions. [The associations] do that in a remarkable manner at national level, in conditions that are not always easy. And together – because we are united – we will succeed in doing so at European level, too.
"With you there," the UEFA President told the associations, "I will never walk alone."
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