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Recognising sport's specific nature, preserving the European sports model, financial fair play, fighting match-fixing and corruption, and protecting young footballers under the age of 18 – many of UEFA's key causes have been highlighted in a speech by UEFA president Michel Platini to the Committee of the Regions (CoR) in Brussels on Wednesday.
In addition, the UEFA president emphasised football's massive popularity and its essential role as a unifying social force which had the power to break down barriers and bring people together.
The CoR is the political assembly giving regional and local levels a say in European Union policy development and legislation. In his address, Mr Platini stressed the need for sport's specificity and the autonomy of the sports federations to be recognised. "Only autonomous federations can guarantee the sporting movement the freedom and space it requires in relation to political requirements," he said.
"The European sporting movement is structured around national associations which jointly elect the European ranks. As president of UEFA, I represent 53 national associations, which are structured themselves into regional committees and local bodies. The European institutions must, as a priority and without reservation, engage in dialogue with European sports federations which are democratically elected."
The UEFA president underlined his support for the European sports model – "because it is perfectly adapted to our modern-day Europe". Comparing the model to a pyramid, Mr Platini explained that its main characteristic was that it was based on financial solidarity between all the scales of the pyramid, from amateur clubs to UEFA and its major competitions. "It is therefore important to preserve the integrity of the model to ensure that the rules of the game are clear, its social and educational value is duly recognised, and the specificity of the sporting model is protected within the general economy."
Mr Platini made clear the reasoning behind UEFA’s financial fair play concept aimed at creating greater stability within the European game. "In a nutshell – you don't spend more than you earn!" he said. "We have therefore had to pass from a system based on the generosity of major patrons to a system based on (...) principles of financial orthodoxy, balanced budgets and self-sufficiency."
Europe's clubs, the UEFA president went on, had understood straight away that football was on the brink, and had seized the opportunity offered to develop a more viable economic model. New regulations would soon be coming into force to reinforce the financial elements of UEFA's club licensing system. "Obtaining a licence is a sine qua non condition for taking part in our competitions," said Mr Platini.
Turning to match-fixing and cooperation, Mr Platini reflected that the money generated by professional sport stimulated greed and organised crime. "In brief, sport is facing a mortal danger, and at the level of football we have reacted," he said. "We have put in place an early-warning system in real time which covers the whole of Europe. We are actively cooperating with national authorities, notably the police and judicial authorities." This system, Mr Platini added, should be protected by European legislation. "Let us not make matches too attractive for organised crime," he said.
Violence, racism and xenophobia, Mr Platini said, existed in society and football was also affected by these negative phenomena. Nevertheless, progress had been made thanks to collaboration between UEFA, European institutions and national governments. "We are on the right track, Not only is violence in decline in the major European competitions – we have just lived through two EURO [tournaments] in Portugal and Austria/Switzerland where there were practically no incidents – we have even arrived at the point where we can think in a sufficiently positive manner to transform these major football rendez-vous into tourist and cultural shop windows for the host cities."
Mr Platini urged the European Union to protect minors – given the fate of many young footballers who left their home countries to join a club in return for payment, but who were then left with no schooling to fall back on if they did not make it.
The UEFA president concluded by informing his audience that the European Commission had asked UEFA to be part of the European pavilion at the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. In September, European football stars of the past would be involved in a match against a Chinese team on an Expo mini-pitch. The Commission, he said, had made a highly symbolic choice, as there was perhaps no stronger European common denominator than football.
Mr Platini closed by referring to Nelson Mandela's philosophy that sport had the power to change the world because it has the power to inspire others, and could even be said to be stronger than politics or governments in breaking down racial barriers, and overcoming discrimination and prejudice.
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