UEFA has held invaluable strategic talks in Cyprus with its 53 national associations which will help European football's governing body set the course for the future in a variety of areas.
The presidents and general secretaries of the member associations came to Limassol for two days of discussions and dialogue focusing on, for example, the European competitions, women's football and the international match calendar.
"At [UEFA] Congresses, we don't have the opportunity to have discussions with the national associations," said UEFA President Michel Platini on Thursday. "Here, the 53 were present – we were able to let them speak and express themselves about their needs."
The international match calendar was a key item for discussion. "Support was given for a calendar which is made up of double-headers – two matches – rather than single friendlies, in particular the single friendlies in August, which is an issue for many stakeholders," said UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino. "Now the process of consultation is going on, the international match calendar being a FIFA issue. It is valid for the entire world, so Europe has something to propose pro-actively, but ultimately FIFA will take the decision."
"FIFA has appointed the confederations' general secretaries to work on an international calendar, which is important for everyone – the clubs, the associations, the leagues," Mr Platini added. "It is a priority for everyone. We can reflect on what is best and make a proposal to FIFA."
Turning to match-fixing, both Mr Platini and Mr Infantino stressed the need for direct contacts between the sports authorities and state authorities in fighting match-fixing. This is being facilitated by the appointment of Integrity Officers across Europe who will work together with the police and state authorities in their specific country.
"We have installed a betting fraud detection system which shows us if there are strange movements with regard to betting," said Mr Infantino of the system whereby some 30,000 matches are being monitored a season, including all those in UEFA competitions, and in first and second divisions across Europe. "When you have this information, what do you do? You go to the police and the prosecutors and you ask them to open investigations because they have the tools to do so.
"It is absolutely crucial that the state authorities are cooperating with the sports authorities. The sports authorities can take disciplinary sanctions – we do not put anyone in jail or give criminal penalties – but we can sanction from a disciplinary point of view when we receive the information from the different police and state authorities."
At its meeting in Limassol on Thursday, the UEFA Executive Committee also gave fresh impetus to the drive to improve refereeing across Europe by giving a green light to the extension of the UEFA Convention on Referee Education and Organisation from 2012 to 2016. The convention aims to enhance referee education, promoting the role of the referee and reinforcing refereeing structures and development. "We are helping the associations to progress in their refereeing," Mr Platini explained. "UEFA is doing its utmost to ensure that refereeing is improved in every European country."
Looking ahead to UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine next summer, the UEFA President was full of positive sentiments. "Since the start, it has been a veritable challenge for UEFA, Poland and Ukraine," he said. "This challenge is certainly going to be won. Things are moving forward. The two countries have never organised major international competitions so we are helping them. We are happy and we think everything will be fine in 2012 – especially if there are good players who play in good matches – which is the major goal of a EURO."
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