UEFA and Euro 2004, S.A. have made clear their position on the selection process for children to take part in a player escort programme, sponsored by McDonald's, at UEFA EURO 2004™ in Portugal this summer.
The children will be chosen to come on to the pitch with the players before the start of each match, and European football's governing body issued a statement on Friday in response to recent media coverage regarding the selection process. UEFA stresses that the process is open to all children, including those with mental and physical disabilities.
The statement said: "UEFA would like to clarify its position regarding the selection criteria for children to participate in the Player Escorts Programme, sponsored by McDonald's, for the forthcoming UEFA European Football Championship 2004.
Some 500 children
"Some 500 Portuguese children will be selected, via McDonald's, to act as player escorts and enter the field of play with the players from each national team at the start of every UEFA EURO 2004™ match. To carry out this function in front of thousands of expectant fans at each match, requires that the children involved are able to cope with the potential pressures involved.
"Thus the selection criteria guidelines, issued by UEFA to McDonald's, includes the statement that 'children should be physically and mentally able to take part in the programme'. This statement refers only to the physical and mental capacity of the child to be able to handle the stadia environment and is specifically there to protect the children.
Open to all children
"It in no way is a reference to the actual physical and mental capacity of the child. UEFA stresses that the programme is open to all children including those with mental or physical disabilities, under the appropriate medical supervision."
Equal opportunities employer
The statement concluded: "UEFA is an equal opportunities employer and gives equal and fair treatment to all. Since 1999 UEFA has used all fines imposed in its competitions for humanitarian aid and educational projects. As part of its extensive charity portfolio UEFA currently supports Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia, promoting the playing of sport and football in particular by people with learning disabilities, as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), supporting European programmes in favour of child victims of war."
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