Football comes first – and an unbending determination to move European football forward and face the challenges of the future. In his address to the XXXIV Ordinary UEFA Congress in Tel Aviv, UEFA president Michel Platini heralded the work undertaken during the last year, and pledged that the European game's governing body is ready to enter the coming period with confidence and fortitude.
Speaking to delegates from UEFA's 53 member associations, as well as guests from the political and sporting worlds, Mr Platini recalled major challenges identified at last year's UEFA Congress in Copenhagen, and signalled the progress being made by an encouragingly united European football family in meeting them.
The first challenge, the UEFA president said, concerned UEFA EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. "In Copenhagen I told you, and I will repeat what I said word for word, that it was a decision that we must and want to implement, and that we will implement, even though the difficulties we are facing are numerous and real. Since then, as you know, we have continued to face many difficulties in these two countries.
"Nevertheless, I can say to you today: yes, we stood by that decision. And yes, as we decided and promised, EURO 2012 will take place in Poland and Ukraine. These two countries will play host to European football in June 2012, in a celebration of its greatest festival."
The UEFA president then turned to the second challenge pinpointed in 2009 – financial fair play. "I told you that it was vital for football and the future of our clubs that they should respect clear rules on the management of their finances," he said. "I told you, word for word, that in this area we will act because it is a question of ethics, a question of credibility and even a question of survival for our sport. I can tell you today that we have acted.
"We have acted because, since Copenhagen, all the families of football, without exception, have approved our concept and the principles of financial fair play. Principles that are supported and encouraged by the institutions of the European Union."
"A UEFA Club Financial Control Panel has been set up, involving some of the top European experts on these issues ... It is now established that, from the 2012/13 season, clubs participating in European competitions will have to follow a simple but demanding rule: they will not be allowed to spend more than they earn.
"Today, thanks to this set of decisions on financial fair play, and especially in view of the reaction of all members of the football family to these measures, it is clear that football has matured."
The third challenge from the Copenhagen Congress, the UEFA president explained, was based on the international transfer of minors. "I told you, word for word, that we must succeed in persuading the political institutions to allow us to prohibit the international transfer of Under-18s. It is undoubtedly the area in which progress is proving hardest to achieve. But we are making progress. I firmly believe that it is our duty to protect children. To safeguard their education. It is a social battle we are waging, a noble and just battle."
The fourth challenge involved illegal betting fraud. "I believe this is the greatest danger we face," Mr Platini told the Congress. "The one that can kill football. So have we acted before it is too late? Only time will tell, but I honestly think we have.
"Thanks to the fraud detection system that we set up following last year's Congress, a system which you approved, a number of cases have been uncovered. We have been able to help the public authorities in their investigations by providing them with a whole series of evidence about certain matches suspected of having been fixed.
"In brief, within the space of a just a few months, we have given ourselves the means to succeed. The cheats now know that they are being hunted down and watched – and that when they are caught they will be made an example of. Coaches, directors, players and referees must help us in this fight. We are operating a zero-tolerance policy and we will continue to do so until the very end. Together."
Turning to the future, Mr Platini spoke of numerous other issues on UEFA's timetable. "Doping, violence, the quality of infrastructure and relations between the different football families are all subjects that are permanently on the agenda and on which we are also acting with strength and determination on a daily basis.
"I am well aware that we have yet to fully overcome the four major challenges I presented to you at the Congress this time last year. But we have constantly pulled in the same direction and acted with the same conviction and trust. We have always been faithful to our ideas and values. And we will remain so. We are therefore ready. We are ready to face the future."
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