UEFA President Michel Platini has welcomed important demonstrations of European football unity in Sofia this week, in which key stakeholders in the European game have pledged to step up the fight against match-fixing and racism.
Europe's national associations, represented by UEFA, clubs (European Club Association), leagues (European Professional Football Leagues) and players (FIFPro Division Europe) have unanimously adopted a joint position paper including a determined action plan to protect the integrity of football and reinforce the battle against match-fixing. UEFA's Executive Committee also ratified the document at its meeting in the Bulgarian capital on Thursday.
The emphasis is on a zero-tolerance stance against match-fixing within football, which UEFA in particular considers as one of the most serious threats to the game's overall well-being – a fact that Michel Platini was quick to stress. "As soon as we know something important, and we have proof of corruption of matches, the sanctions are 'zero tolerance'," he said. "I count on the world of football, and all who love football, to help eradicate this scourge – because match-fixing is the most important problem affecting football.
"If tomorrow you go to matches knowing what the result will be," the UEFA President added, "there is no point in even going. Our sport will be killed. We must absolutely protect [football] and show no pity towards those who break the rules – players, referees, officials. There will be zero tolerance. It is a question of defending our game. We all love football and we must protect it. We will not let up."
UEFA has introduced a series of measures and activities as part of its efforts to eliminate match-fixing. These include a betting fraud detection system (BFDS) which sees some 30,000 domestic league and cup matches monitored across Europe, as well as games in UEFA competitions. UEFA is building a comprehensive internal database containing match-related information and data from diverse sources which enables the European body to work together with law enforcement agencies and state prosecutors in their inquiries into cases of match corruption.
UEFA also deploys integrity officers throughout its 53 member associations who are working against match-fixing at a domestic level, helping to introduce education programmes for players, officials and administrators, and liaising with UEFA on any integrity matter which arises concerning their matches or their teams participating in UEFA competitions.
Turning to the issue of racism in football, the Professional Football Strategy Council also adopted a resolution that has the objective of combating racism and discrimination in the game. Again, a zero-tolerance approach is supported, and there is a strong call for stricter punishment to be imposed. In addition, support is given to referees who decide to stop matches in cases of racism.
"It is a massive problem," said Mr Platini of the negative phenomena of racism, discrimination and intolerance. "It affects people who have nothing to do with football. We have to try and combat it on two fronts – by education through all of the programmes we are undertaking with international organisations, and the second possibility is sanctions. It's our duty to fight against racism."
Mr Platini expressed his satisfaction at the progress of the system of additional assistant referees, which became part of the Laws of the Game last July, and which was deployed at UEFA EURO 2012 and is now being used in UEFA's major club competitions. In Sofia, the Executive Committee approved specific funding in the form of €10m worth of aid to national associations over three years to implement the additional assistant referees' programme.
"The International Football Association Board accepted the system of five referees," the UEFA President reflected, "and we are going to continue with this system in our competitions. There is nothing negative about it – there are four extra eyes who are going to see things much better than was the case before. At the level of the UEFA Champions League, I am very happy to see what is happening – there are practically no more errors, and the referees see everything that is taking place on the pitch."
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