A new era began for UEFA in January 2007, when Frenchman Michel Platini, one of the world's top players from the 1980s, was elected as UEFA president at the XXXI Ordinary UEFA Congress in Dusseldorf. Lennart Johansson was named Honorary UEFA president after 17 years of outstanding service to European football.
Michel Platini came to the UEFA presidency after a magnificent career as a player with AS Nancy-Lorraine, AS Saint-Etienne and Juventus at club level – plus three European Footballer of the Year awards, and a proud record of 72 appearances and 41 goals at international level with France – lifting the UEFA European Championship trophy as captain on home soil in 1984. He then served as France's national-team coach from 1988 to 1992, and made a smooth transition to the role of football politician and administrator, occupying the key post of co-president of the 1998 FIFA World Cup organising committee for the tournament in his home country.
Developments at UEFA and within the European game continued apace. In April 2007, UEFA's Executive Committee decided to award the UEFA EURO 2012 final round to Poland and Ukraine. The decision meant that joint hosts would be staging a EURO final round for the third time, after Belgium and the Netherlands in 2000, and Austria and Switzerland in 2008.
At the tenth extraordinary UEFA Congress in Zurich in May 2007, statutory amendments were made which, among other things, led to the creation of a Professional Football Strategic Council within UEFA, comprising UEFA's vice-presidents and representatives of the European clubs, leagues and players. In addition, the title of the head of UEFA's administration reverted back to general secretary. On 1 June 2007, David Taylor, the former chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, took over as UEFA's new general secretary to lead the organisation into a fascinating future. Gianni Infantino was named as deputy general Secretary to Mr Taylor. Together with a loyal and strong administration, the team of leaders has been patiently steering UEFA's course for the coming years.
Mr Platini's presidency began with a call at the Extraordinary Congress in Zurich in May for an end to the strife that has affected football's health. The creation of a Professional Football Strategy Council was described by Mr Platini as "a crucial step, with an eye to gathering together all football families. I call officially on the major and important clubs in European football to join together with all the other clubs to engage in a fruitful, productive and democratic dialogue with the other members of the European football family," he said. "UEFA's door is wide open – join us and, I promise you, you will not be disappointed."
The subsequent formation of the European Club Association (ECA) and the signing in January 2008 of a Memorandum of Understanding between the new body – representing the interests of clubs at European level – and UEFA, the governing body of European football, paved the way for harmony to return to football between the governing bodies and the clubs. As part of the Memorandum of Understanding, it was agreed to distribute every four years an amount from the UEFA European Championship to national associations for them to pass on to their clubs who have contributed to the successful staging of a European Championship. In the autumn of 2007, a keynote Memorandum of Understanding was also signed with the European division of the players' union FIFPro as dialogue bore encouraging fruit.
The invaluable dialogue between UEFA and football's stakeholders also resulted in changes to the formats of UEFA's club competitions, approved by the UEFA Executive Committee in November. Between 2009 and 2012, 22 sides will qualify directly for the 32-team UEFA Champions League group stage – the third-placed clubs from the associations ranked between 1 and 3 in the ranking list, and the champions of countries ranked from 10 to 12 are added – instead of the previous 16, and the UEFA Champions League final will be played on a Saturday from 2010. For the 2009/10 season, the venerable UEFA Cup was replaced after 37 years by the UEFA Europa League, featuring a 48-team group stage, and breathing new sporting and commercial life into European club football's second competition.
On the national-team front, the UEFA EURO 2008 final round in Austria and Switzerland was an outstanding success in commercial and sporting terms. Moreover, even as preparatory work for the 2008 football festival reached boiling point, UEFA was looking even further ahead – in the direction of eastern Europe, to be precise – with the Executive Committee choosing Poland and Ukraine as hosts of UEFA EURO 2012. In September 2008, the EURO final-round field was increased by UEFA's Executive Committee from 16 to 24 for the 2016 event, in what is seen as a natural development for the popular national-team game. In May 2010, France was chosen by the UEFA Executive Committee to be the host of UEFA EURO 2016.
UEFA's tireless campaigning continues on behalf of various causes for the sake of football's well-being. A "zero tolerance" policy is being pursued against violence and racism in particular. Social responsibility is no idle phrase at UEFA. Crucial support is being given to the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network, and UEFA backing for land-mine victims was the focal point of work with the International Committee of the Red Cross at UEFA EURO 2008. Support has been forthcoming as well for, among others, football associations affected by natural disasters, homeless players, disabled players and footballers with learning difficulties, as well as youngsters in regions affected by hostilities, and the 53 member associations are continuing to benefit fully from the ambitious HatTrick programme.
The list of ongoing work stretches into the future. Intensive political and diplomatic dialogue with the European Union continues in a variety of areas. UEFA is also listening to the fans, and a first-ever meeting in 2007 between supporter groups and the European body came about because UEFA wants to get closer to the fans who are the game's lifeblood. The battle against doping – in and out-of-competition blood testing was carried out at UEFA EURO 2008 for the first time – corruption and illegal betting in football goes on unabated, with the latter campaign leading to the strengthening of the UEFA Betting and Fraud Detection System in 2009, with more than 29,000 matches now checked each season. In September 2009 UEFA's Executive Committee approved a Financial Fair Play concept to improve the financial fairness in European competitions, as well as the long-term stability of European club football. In the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, two additional assistant referees are being deployed in an experiment to look at ways of helping referees' decision-making. The top referees of the future are now being given expert guidance at UEFA's Centre of Refereeing Excellence (CORE) in Nyon, which was launched in the summer of 2010.
The Respect campaign, which was initiated by Michel Platini before the start of the 2008 UEFA European Championship final round, is aimed at encouraging mutual respect between players, coaches, officials and fans, and was a cornerstone of the tournament. Its widespread exposure throughout host cities contributed greatly to the convivial and joyful atmosphere both on and off the pitch, as well as inside and outside stadiums across Austria and Switzerland. As a consequence of the positive reaction to the campaign, the Respect initiative has been extended to all UEFA competitions and events, and is also being spread by the football family at national and local levels. UEFA's view is that there must be respect for the difference and diversity which enriches Europe, with a specific focus on countering racism, violence, xenophobia and homophobia, as well as giving reinforced backing to our partners who promote sport for the disabled.
In September 2009, the UEFA Executive Committee reviewed the structure of UEFA's marketing and commercial operations and approved the creation of a new company wholly owned by European football's governing body. The new company - UEFA Events SA - will be responsible for UEFA's business and commercial operations. David Taylor was appointed as chief executive of the new company as of 1 October 2009, and UEFA deputy general secretary Gianni Infantino was appointed as UEFA general secretary. He took up this role on the same date.
UEFA works according to eleven key values – appropriately, the same number as a football team – that should serve as the basis for the body's activities and dialogue, on behalf of European football, with the political, economic, social and sporting world. Michel Platini presented the eleven key values in his address at the XXXIII Ordinary UEFA Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark, in March 2009. The eleven values cover the landscape of UEFA's activities – from unity and leadership, good governance and autonomy to youth protection and education, sporting integrity and financial fair play – with the promise that football will always come first in all that UEFA does.
On 22 March 2011, at the XXXV Ordinary UEFA Congress in Paris, Michel Platini was re-elected by acclamation for a second four-year term. He listed the fight against corruption, financial fair play, and the need to protect football's essential values for future generations as key priorities for the coming period.
After more than five decades of existence, UEFA's voice continues to ring loud, proud and clear – with football's well-being at the heart of its work throughout the game.
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